Producer Colin Callender on Emmys' Folly: Save the Miniseries! (Guest Column)
The former president of HBO Films (and now executive producer of PBS' 'Wolf Hall') argues against the pitting of miniseries vs. limited series: "Consolidation is not the answer."
This story first appeared in the July 3 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
The emergence of new digital broadcast platforms and the arms race that has developed among the networks for original programming has opened the door to an unprecedented and glorious variety of stories and formats on television.
For producers and talent, there never has been a better time to be working in the medium. But for the Television Academy, it never has been a more complicated time to decide how we categorize this new programming landscape for awards recognition.
This is not just a prosaic task. The way the TV Academy defines certain forms of storytelling is a de facto validation of those programming forms, and the TV Academy plays a significant role in promoting those forms — both traditional and new — side by side.
This is not a new challenge. From 2011 to 2013, when the networks effectively had abandoned original movies and miniseries, the TV Academy succumbed to pressure to combine the two categories. When the creative community responded that this would diminish the stature of both forms, it reverted to the dual categories. In the past couple of years, we have seen a significant revival in the popularity of the miniseries form, and I would suggest that is in part because the TV Academy's reversal validated the miniseries as a storytelling form that truly is unique to the TV medium.
But this year, we see another attempt to deal with the ever- changing storytelling landscape with the creation of the "Outstanding Limited Series" category and the elimination of the specific miniseries category. These shifting ground rules for the shortform categories threaten to devalue the traditional miniseries and once again diminish the stature of this heralded form.
When the Emmy nominations are revealed July 16, the limited-series category likely will feature a mix of traditional miniseries alongside anthology series and in some cases backdoor first seasons for continuing series that, to avoid competing with established returning series, have been positioned as limited series. It's interesting to note that of the five shows nominated in the miniseries category last year, two (True Detective and Fargo) are returning for additional series and one (American Horror Story) actually was in its fourth season at the time of its nomination.
Contrast that with the 2008 and 2009 Emmys, when all the programs competing in the miniseries category were traditional closed-ended minis.
The genuine miniseries — a single, closed-ended story told over a number of episodes — has a celebrated place in the history of American television, from Roots to The Winds of War and Holocaust to Band of Brothers, Angels in America and Hatfields & McCoys. These are some of television's proudest moments.
Equally, some of TV's most exciting new programming can be found in anthology and limited series as high-level talent, attracted to the shorter runs, have flocked to launch shows or to join established franchises. Similarly, audiences have responded to the idea that they can return to a trusted programming brand, but one that requires less of a viewing commitment than a traditional series.
There is no way the TV Academy can account for every form and format of show that exists now or that is likely to emerge in the rapidly expanding landscape. However, I suggest that the solution is not to lump any show that does not fit the traditional-series mold into a single short-form category. Consolidation is not the answer — on the contrary, the solution is expansion.
Storytelling forms that are unique to television should compete in dedicated categories that celebrate programs with similar creative and artistic ambitions. The traditional miniseries deserves its own dedicated category, just as the anthology series and the limited series that establishes a format and returns with new storylines and characters deserve their own.
The TV Academy, in its mission statement, declares clearly that its goal is to promote creativity, diversity and innovation in telecommunications arts and sciences. To do this, it must find a way to fully embrace the multiplicity of television storytelling forms by having like compete with like.
Colin Callender, founder of Playground Entertainment, is an executive producer on Wolf Hall and The Missing and a former president of HBO Films.