Game Change is more than just the name of the polarizing HBO picture that’s the frontrunner to take home the 2012 Emmy in the now-merged movie/miniseries category, it’s also the underlying theme of the whole race.
Until last year when PBS’ Downton Abbey pulled off an upset, HBO projects had taken the gold for nearly a decade. Suddenly, it seemed like anything could happen — and, suddenly, it did. Downton’s move to the drama series category makes the movie/mini derby an HBO-vs.-PBS free-for-all.
Thanks to Game Change — as well as the marquee value of Hemingway & Gellhorn — the cable network would appear to have the edge. But there’s a growing sentiment that no potential nominee or winner is more deserving than PBS’ Sherlock. For now, however, whether that stellar underdog will score a nod, much less a win, remains a mystery. Another potential spoiler: FX’s rookie anthology American Horror Story. And with its record-shattering ratings, along with A-level stars in Kevin Costner and Bill Paxton, History’s Hatfields & McCoys solidified its Emmy chances.
Related: EMMYS: AwardsLine’s Pre-Nom Profiles
Here’s our assessment of the chances for this year’s made for television movies and miniseries (in alphabetical order) and their stars:
AMERICAN HORROR STORY
It has been suggested that Ryan Murphy’s kinky FX chiller should be competing as a drama series (like Downton Abbey this year), not a mini-series (like Downton Abbey last year). But the anthological nature of the spookfest suggests that it is, in fact, right where it belongs. In any case, in this less crowded category, it’s much likelier to be recognized with a nod. Ordinarily, prior nominees Dylan McDermott (a contender for The Practice in 1999) and Connie Britton (up twice for Friday Night Lights) would stand a great chance of being acknowledged as well. But the general consensus is that, if any cast member is going to be singled out, it’s going to be scene-stealing Jessica Lange (herself a three-time nominee and a winner in 2009 for Grey Gardens, to say nothing of her Golden Globe and SAG Awards for American Horror Story).
HBO’s adaptation of John Heilemann and Mark Halperin’s book about the 2008 presidential election campaign wasn’t just the movie that had everyone — critics and viewers alike — talking this year, it was the movie that had everyone applauding. That is, with the possible exception of would-be veep Sarah Palin, played here by Julianne Moore with such uncanny precision — and at times discomfiting empathy — that she’s a shoo-in for a nomination, if not a win. (Who knew anyone could out-Palin Tina Fey?) Besides its leading lady, the movie itself is a lock for a nod, as are its director, Jay Roach (who won two Emmys in 2008 for another political HBO movie, Recount), and co-star Woody Harrelson (a six-time Emmy nominee and a victor for Cheers back in 1989).
As gloriously bleak as PBS’ adaptation of the Charles Dickens classic was, it flew mainly under the radar — with one notable exception: its Miss Havisham, Gillian Anderson. She was widely considered to be too young to play the infamously horrific crone. But, given Emmy’s long love affair with the actress — she’s been nominated five times and won in 1997 for The X-Files — it would be a mistake to count her out.
HATFIELDS & McCOYS
History was poised to make a name for itself in the scripted television realm with last year’s controversial The Kennedys … until that mini ended up premiering on ReelzChannel instead (It went on to receive 10 Emmy nominations and win in four categories). Now, with its star-studded dramatization of the itchy-trigger-fingered families’ feud, History is making another grab for the brass ring — and for a certain golden statuette. Besides the mini itself Costner as ‘Devil’ Anse Hatfield and Paxton as Randall McCoy look pretty good for nominations. So does Powers Boothe — an Emmy winner more than 30 years ago for Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones. The three-night miniseries no doubt vastly improved its chances by shattering the record for the highest rated entertainment telecast ever for an ad-supported cable network with 14.3 million viewers in its third installment, and 13.9 million and 13.1 million respectively for its second and first nights.
HEMINGWAY & GELLHORN
Perhaps no movie or mini-series in the running this year is blessed with more name-in-lights allure than HBO’s World War II-set drama about the roller-coaster romance of author Ernest Hemingway and his third wife, Martha Gellhorn. So it’s all but unthinkable that the stars who give the film its star power — Clive Owen and Nicole Kidman — won’t be nominated (If she wasn’t going to be up against Julianne Moore for Game Change, Kidman might even stand a chance of winning, going all Meryl Streep as she does with the husky voice and non-accent). Director Philip Kaufman — a star in his own right — is another safe bet. And don’t be surprised if supporting player Robert Duvall sneaks into the races: He’s received nods four times as an actor (and five overall) and emerged victorious in 2007 for Broken Trail.
BBC America’s Cold War-era drama scored not only as a nail-biter but also as a pitch-perfect period piece on par with the likes of Mad Men. In addition, it’s coming off three Golden Globe nominations. So, to put it mildly, it’s looking good for an Emmy nod or two, in particular for its male lead, Wire alum Dominic West as the smoothest operator this side of Don Draper.
Though it hasn’t sparked the kind of hoopla that other British TV projects have (think: Downton Abbey), this dark crime drama did earn its leading man, Idris Elba, a nod following its first go-’round last year. And, coming off a Golden Globe win this year, at very least he seems like a safe bet to receive another Emmy nomination.
Most of the attention that PBS’ spy yarn has received thus far has been focused on its star, Bill Nighy — a Golden Globe nominee for his portrayal of an MI5 agent whose discovery of a cover-up paints a target on his back. However, writer-director David Hare should be considered a contender as well, not only because of the quality of the film but also because it marks his first feature-length directorial effort since 1997’s The Designated Mourner.
Were the Emmys only about quality and not politics, star wattage and network muscle, a win for PBS’ superlative detective update would be … well, elementary. On every level — writing, directing, acting — the episode submitted for consideration (the first of Season 2, “A Scandal in Belgravia”) is triumphant. At the very least, it — and its Holmes, Benedict Cumberbatch — should receive a nomination (Last year, the show’s only major nod was for writing).
If ABC has a sinking feeling about this effort’s Emmy prospects, it could be because there were more passengers aboard the ill-fated behemoth than watched this depiction of its fateful journey. Its only potential lifeline? The man at the helm, Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes, who bagged two statuettes last year, one in this category and one for writing for a miniseries, movie or special.
Appropriate Adult (Sundance Channel)
Case Histories (PBS)
Moby Dick (Encore)
Scott Turow’s ‘Innocent’ (TNT)
The Song of Lunch (PBS)
The Space Between (USA)
Long Shots/No Shots
Bag of Bones (A&E)
Certain Prey (USA)
Drew Peterson Untouchable (Lifetime)
Have a Little Faith (ABC)
Magic Beyond Words: The J.K. Rowling Story (Lifetime)
A Smile as Big as the Moon (ABC)
Treasure Island (Syfy)