The timing of last year’s decision by the TV Academy to consolidate the four longform acting categories into two was baffling as it came a couple of days after the record-breaking debut of History’s miniseries Hatfields & McCoys and the network premiere of HBO’s Hemingway & Gellhorn, which had opened at the Cannes Film Festival. The TV Academy moved to cut the categories in half amidst a renaissance of the longform genre with such programs as British imports Downton Abbey, which started off in the miniseries field, Sherlock and Luther; History’s Hatfields & McCoys and FX’s American Horror Story, which was submitted as a miniseries. At the time, TV Academy’s SVP Awards John Leverence explained the decision by saying that the decrease in longform categories “corresponds to their primetime presence.”
But this week, just as the consolidation was about to take effect, the TV Academy reversed its decision, keeping the lead and supporting acting fields intact. “What a difference 13 months make,” Leverence said yesterday. He said the May 2012 vote “was based on how the longform (programming) was trending — the patient was on the table getting last rites.” But now “there has been a major revival of the longform. The consolidation was based on last year’s reality, not based on this year’s reality; what we thought was happening reversed itself.”
I’d argue that the longform revival had already started when the TV Academy voted to consolidate the acting categories but it certainly continued over the last year with such new entries as Sundance Channel’s Top Of The Lake, History’s The Bible (not necessarily Emmy material), Lifetime’s Steel Magnolias and HBO’s upcoming Behind The Candelabra, which just landed a competition slot in Cannes. The final installment of Showtime’s The Big C also was done as a miniseries as was USA’s Political Animals. Leverence said the question about possibly reconsidering last year’s decision”based on the new longform landscape”, was first raised by members of the producing branch of the Academy. Bob Bergen and Lily Tomlin, Governors of the Performers Peer Group, then introduced the reversal proposal, which was voted by the Board Thursday night. With about two thirds of the Emmy entries in, the number of acting submissions in the longform categories this year is projected to be roughly on par with last year, Leverence said, giving TV movie/miseries performers the same odds of getting nominated as last year.
While the TV Academy Board on Thursday opted to keep the acting longform categories, they did not address possibly reinstating separate TV movie and miniseries/limited series fields which have been merged since 2011. That may change as the longform volume is expected to keep growing. Fox and FX are making a big push in the limited series arena, with FX recently greenlighted its first program under the initiative, a remake of Fargo, and Fox expected to make its first order soon. History continues to fly the miniseries flag with the upcoming Bonnie & Clyde mini (in association with Lifetime). Additionally, NBC has The Sound Of Music staging coming up. What’s more, the broadcast networks, which carry the Primetime Emmys, had long been complaining about the telecast featuring so many longform categories because for the last decade, TV movies and miniseries had largely been obscure programs on cable that few viewers had seen. Not anymore. With longform entries like Hatfields & McCoys, American Horror Story, The Bible and Steel Magnolias drawing larger crowds than many series, broadcasters now probably won’t mind keeping the movie/miniseries acting fields.