Emmys: FX Faces a Tricky Juggling Act in the Limited Series Category

The cable network boasts three strong contenders in the category this year — 'American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson,' 'American Horror Story: Hotel' and the second installment of 'Fargo' — and must try to figure out how to give them all a fair shot.
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Ted Danson in 'Fargo,' Lady Gaga in 'American Horror Story: Hotel' and Courtney B. Vance in 'The People vs. O.J. Simpson'

FX has a problem of a sort that every TV network would like to have at this time of the year.

The cable outlet has three programs — American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson, American Horror Story: Hotel and the second installment of Fargo — that all are strong contenders for Emmy nominations in the category of best limited series. The puzzle it now has to solve is how to campaign for each of them in a way that is both realistic and considerate to the talent associated with the projects, some of whom have long-term relationships with FX. For example, Ryan Murphy co-created AHS and executive produced and directed the pilot of ACS, and actress Sarah Paulson did standout work in both. (She's being promoted as a lead for her role as Marcia Clark in ACS and in supporting for her AHS addict-ghost.)

Is a hat-trick of nominations for all three plausible in a category with six slots? Absolutely — but it's far from assured.

Back when this category — which has intermittently been known as "best miniseries" or "best miniseries or TV movie" — had only five slots, four were claimed by one network on three occasions, once by PBS in 1984 and twice by NBC in 1986 and 1987. And there have been six instances of networks snagging three in one year. But since the beginning of the 2000s, during which the rise of basic cable and premium cable has resulted in many more networks clamoring for a piece of the pie, only one network has had a showing of that sort  — HBO claimed half of the six slots in 2011.

This year, other strong contenders include ABC's American Crime (the first installment of Oscar winner John Ridley's dark show was nominated last year), AMC's The Night Manager (for which Tom Hiddleston and Hugh Laurie have delivered huge ratings), History's Roots (a remake of the biggest Emmy winner ever), Hulu's 11.22.63 (one of the strongest awards shots in the young streamer's brief history) and HBO's Show Me a Hero (which has already bagged the corresponding Critics' Choice Award for a network that has dominated this category in recent years).

None of those shows, though, can boast the ratings of ACS, the critical acclaim of Fargo (most feel this installment is even better than the first, which won the limited series Emmy in 2014) or the curiosity factor that comes with the fifth installment of AHS thanks to the acting debut of Lady Gaga, who won the Golden Globe for best actress in a limited series or TV movie for her performance.

FX is doing its due diligence for all three — each will be promoted on billboards in the Hollywood area, each has had or will have a "For Your Consideration" event and full seasons of each will be included in FX's mailer to TV Academy members, which will be sent out in the first week of May.

But the network — like Murphy — must face some harsh realities, as well.

While the previous installments of AHS have each received a ton of Emmy nominations — 17 in 2012, 17 in 2013, 17 in 2014 and 19 in 2015 — including limited series mentions for each edition, Hotel, unlike any of them, was a critical dud. It's currently at 58 percent on RottenTomatoes.com, whereas Fargo is at 100 percent and ACS is at 97 percent.

So the question is whether it's worth making a major push for Hotel, or if it would be wiser to reallocate to the ACS campaign the money and resources that might have gone to Hotel. That might be the prudent move for Murphy, whose prolific TV work — on Nip/Tuck, Glee, The Normal Heart and AHS — has thus far netted him only one directing Emmy (for the pilot of Glee) and one producing Emmy (for Normal Heart), but who might well take home one of each this year for ACS — if, that is, he doesn't siphon off some of his own support.

The truth, though, is that whatever FX decides, a bigger factor may be how much money each show's respective production company decides to kick in to a campaign. Fox 21 is said to be spending generously in support of ACS, while MGM is reportedly being more conservative with its push for Fargo. Is that a reflection of which way the winds are blowing, or is it causing the winds to blow a certain way? Your guess is as good as anyone's.

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