Emmys: Weighing the Odds in Two Key Nonfiction Races

7:30 AM 8/5/2019

by Scott Feinberg

A pair of categories — best documentary or nonfiction special and best informational series or special — feature star-studded series and docs that explore hot-button issues, from 'Leaving Neverland' to 'Surviving R. Kelly.'

'Leaving Neverland;' 'Surviving R. Kelly'
'Leaving Neverland;' 'Surviving R. Kelly'
Courtesy of HBO; Courtesy of Lifetime

  • 'Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened' (Netflix)

    Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Special

    Courtesy of Netflix

    This tragicomic portrait of 2017's Fyre Festival disaster landed four nominations. Netflix promoted it at its FYSee space with viral star Andy King and a serving of the (now infamous) cheese sandwiches.

    On the other hand... Unlike Hulu's Fyre doc, this one was co-produced by Jerry Media (which also worked on the fest) and doesn't feature the participation of Fyre mastermind Billy McFarland.

  • 'Jane Fonda in Five Acts' (HBO)

    Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Special

    Courtesy of Sundance Institute

    The screen legend and activist reflects on her multifaceted life in this biodoc from Susan Lacy, the American Masters creator who previously received noms for films about Don Hewitt and Steven Spielberg.

    On the other hand... Fonda, still active in her career (she stars on Netflix's Grace and Frankie), long has been open and introspective in interviews, so this film, which received no other nominations, doesn't break new ground.

  • 'Leaving Neverland' (HBO)

    Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Special

    Courtesy of HBO

    Two men accuse Michael Jackson of sexually abusing them as children in this two-parter, which launched at the Sundance Film Festival and became one of HBO's most watched docs of all time. Its five noms are a category high.

    On the other hand... Some feel it unfairly besmirches the reputation of a man who can't defend himself from claims by people who not only didn't allege wrongdoing against him while he was alive, but spoke on his behalf.

  • 'Love, Gilda' (CNN)

    Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Special

    Courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival

    Lisa D'Apolito pays tribute to beloved comedienne Gilda Radner, the barrier-breaking original castmember of Saturday Night Live. The filmmaker uses Radner's own diaries and home movies to chronicle her life (she died 30 years ago), along with interviews with intimates like Alan Zweibel. The documentary opened 2018's Tribeca Film Festival.

    On the other hand... It scored just one other nomination.

  • 'Minding the Gap' (Hulu)

    Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Special

    Courtesy of Hulu

    Bing Liu's feature directorial debut offers a fascinating snapshot of race and class in Trump's America. It premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, snagging a special jury award, en route to theaters and Hulu. It also scored an Academy Award nomination, and fans include Barack Obama.

    On the other hand... This is its sole nomination, and some are reluctant to award an Emmy to a documentary that already found love and attention during Oscar season.

  • 'The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley' (HBO)

    Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Special

    Courtesy of Sundance Institute

    Elizabeth Holmes, the opaque billionaire behind tech startup Theranos who was exposed as a con artist, is profiled by Oscar winner Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Dark SideGoing Clear) in this production. The film premiered at Sundance and received its TV unveiling in March.

    On the other hand... This is the production's only nomination, and the film may be overshadowed by a podcast that preceded it.

  • 'Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown' (CNN)

    Outstanding Informational Series or Special

    CNN

    The defending winner, which has won a category-record five times, is eligible for the last time — Bourdain died in 2018, having completed only one episode of this season. The other six were finished by his team after his death, and don't contain his signature voiceover. It's this category's only nominee with more than one nod — six, including writing.

    On the other hand... This show's format is no longer unique.

  • 'Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee' (Netflix)

    Outstanding Informational Series or Special

    Courtesy of Netflix

    Jerry Seinfeld's show bagged its second nomination since moving from Crackle to Netflix — and fourth overall — for a season featuring guests ranging from Ellen DeGeneres to Jerry Lewis (recorded a few months before the latter's death). It recently launched a new season with a Seinfeld-Eddie Murphy convo.

    On the other hand... This is its sole nom, and Netflix also has to push David Letterman's show.

  • 'Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath' (A&E)

    Outstanding Informational Series or Special

    Courtesy of A+E Networks

    The third season of ex-Scientologist Remini's show — this category's only past winner other than Bourdain, having prevailed in 2017 — brought it its third nom, with episodes showing how other faiths have parallels to Scientology.

    On the other hand... Scientology is not as shocking as it used to be, the show's ratings are down and this is its only nomination.

  • 'My Next Guest Needs No Introduction With David Letterman' (Netflix)

    Outstanding Informational Series or Special

    Joe Pugliese/Netflix

    The TV Academy has now nominated both seasons of this program, on which the former Late Show host conducts masterful longform interviews, this season with guests ranging from Kanye West to Melinda Gates. Letterman promoted it by recording a bonus episode at Netflix's FYSee space.

    On the other hand... This is its sole nom, and Netflix also has to push Seinfeld's show.

  • 'Surviving R. Kelly' (Lifetime)

    Outstanding Informational Series or Special

    Courtesy of Lifetime

    This six-parter about the alleged misdeeds of musician R. Kelly was its network's highest-rated show in more than two years. After it aired in January, Kelly's record label (Sony Music) dumped him, he was charged with 10 counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse and, during a March interview on CBS This Morning, he lost his cool while Gayle King kept hers.

    On the other hand... This is the series' sole nomination.

    This story first appeared in an August stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.