Jalal Haddad breaks down the contenders in the TV Movie Emmy race which might change as unconventional titles classify themselves as TV films.
Every year that the limited series becomes more relevant, it seems that the once-thriving TV movie inches closer and closer to eventual extinction. Besides HBO and niche channels like Hallmark and Lifetime, networks simply aren’t making TV movies with the same veracity. In fact, the TV Movie Emmy race felt so thin each that HBO easily won the category the past 16 out of 20 years without much competition.
Voters appear to grow tired of the HBO prestige biopic formula, though. As a result, other networks are beginning to capitalize with creative submission choices. PBS submitted individual episodes of Sherlock as TV films, which led to last year’s submission, The Abominable Bride, to pull off a surprising upset by winning the top award. This year Sherlock will be back, but possibly with interesting competition from Netflix’s horror anthology Black Mirror.
Black Mirror Before Netflix made the ingenious decision to submit an episode of Black Mirror as a TV movie, the race felt like the most bland in recent years. Black Mirror popped up throughout the various guild awards, most notably with Bryce Dallas Howard earning an individual SAG nomination. The only question that remains is what episode Netflix will end up submitting? The most high-profile choice is obviously Nosedive, the Bryce Dallas Howard episode about a young woman in an alternative reality where people rate one another on social media with unfortunate consequences. The episode, penned by Rashida Jones and Ben Schur, was specifically nominated not only by SAG but also ADG, VES, and BAFTA. The other popular choice is the episode San Junipero which also received guild recognition although the episode doesn’t have as much star power.
Sherlock: The Abominable Bride In 2014, Sherlock perplexingly saw a successful Emmy night winning the writing, supporting actor, and lead actor awards until it eventually lost the top TV Movie Emmy race to The Normal Heart. Last year, when voting opened to the entire Television Academy to be determined by a simple popular vote, passionate fans of the cult series rallied behind the modern adaptation of the classic character. This pushed Sherlock to its first win in the category. With such passionate fans within the Academy, Sherlock could easily win a second Outstanding TV Movie award. However, this year’s submission, The Abominable Bride, received a much more tepid reaction from fans and critics, leaving room for something else to sneak in.
The Wizard of Lies The end of May slot on HBO was historically reserved for prestigious TV movies that go on to win at the Emmys. In recent years, though, voters found the HBO biopic to be a little too predictable. Unless The Wizard of Lies debuts with stellar reviews in a couple of weeks, it’s hard to imagine voters will rally behind a project about Bernie Madoff, especially since ABC’s version last year failed to gain any traction.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Before premiering last month, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks had the promise of becoming one of the more interesting HBO films in recent years. Based on the bestselling book of the same name, the TV movie follows the daughter of Henrietta Lacks (whose cells were unethically taken and used to impact modern medicine) as she teams with a journalist to tell her mother’s story. Unfortunately, the film premiered to lackluster reviews, and everyone almost unanimously agreed that the story didn’t get treatment it deserved.
King Charles III Masterpiece’s King Charles III emerges this Mother’s Day weekend as a true wild card entry into the TV Movie Emmy race. The project comes with the appropriate West End and Tony nominated pedigree, but it lacks the sexier buzz of its competition. Still, the 90-minute film, pared down from a 3-hour play, flies by with gripping performances and an eerily timely plot line. That coupled with its star’s (Tim Pigott-Smith) unexpected death in early April should be enough to push it into contention even without the star wattage of Sherlock.
Looking: The Movie Andrew Haigh’s small HBO series about modern gay life in San Fransisco was never able to find its place in the television landscape with audiences, critics, and industry voters. After two seasons, the dramedy was cancelled. Last summer, HBO gave the show a final/quiet sendoff with a TV movie that debuted on a late Saturday night. Many voters aren’t even going to consider voting for Looking: The Movie, but in a disastrously weak year, a small but supportive group of fans might be able to rally behind it. There is a surprising precedent for this. Just two years ago, the goodbye film for Hello Ladies was able to sneak into the TV movie race.
Killing Reagan Television adaptations of Bill O’Reilly’s bestselling novels have performed relatively well at the Emmys with past installments like Killing Kennedy and Killing Jesus making it into the TV Movie Emmy race. This year voters have the opportunity to vote for Killing Reagan which focuses on the assassination attempt of the 40th President of the United States. After multiple Critics Choice nominations, this film might be an easy sell to voters. However since the film premiered last fall, our political climate dramatically changed, and many voters might simply stay clear of any project that has O’Reilly attached to it after multiple sexual assault allegations surfaced.
Churchill’s Secret Focused on the declining health of Prime Minister Winston Churchill and the political drama it caused among his colleagues, Churchill’s Secret has the potential to appeal to many older Academy voters. Especially those who also enjoyed following the story of Churchill’s declining health throughout the first season of The Crown. The only problem is that most voters likely weren’t even aware of the British import when it premiered on PBS last September. It will also be curious to see if voters roll their eyes and dismiss the film because of the inclusion of a fictional major character who nurses him back to health played by Romola Garai.
Custody This year’s TV Movie Emmy race is so thin that the conversation arrived at the Lifetime film Custody. It becomes a part of the conversation simply because of its incredible cast including Emmy favorites like Viola Davis and Ellen Burstyn. Custody follows a judge played by Viola Davis who helps a working class single mother keep custody of her children. Voters don’t easily embrace Lifetime films unless they focus on famous names or are adapted from well-regarded works. It’s hard to imagine that Custody will sneak into the Emmy race, but in a race with barely any options, goodwill towards Viola Davis might carry it to a nomination.