Analysis: Why the Emmys Combined Miniseries and Made-for-TV Movie Categories

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John Leverence

A lack of qualifying contenders, not pressure from broadcast networks, led to the decision, says the TV Academy’s awards guru.

The Television Academy’s decision to combine the miniseries and made-for-TV movie categories will curtail a field that has been dominated by cable and comes as the Academy is embroiled in negotiations with the broadcast networks on a new licensing deal for the primetime Emmy telecast.

As broadcast networks have all but abandoned the movie and mini business, it is cable, and especially HBO, that have run away with the field. Last year, the premium cable network swept both categories with the ten-part World War II epic The Pacific taking the mini Emmy and Temple Grandin winning the made-for-TV-movie statue. Privately, executives at the broadcast networks -- which under the terms of the expired contract were paying $7.5 million a year plus the cost of mounting and promoting the telecast --– were complaining that those categories amounted to one long commercial for HBO.

But John Leverence, the senior vp of awards at the Academy, tells The Hollywood Reporter that the telecast itself was not a factor in the board of governors’ decision to combine the categories. Rather, it was the dearth of qualifying miniseries. Last year, there were only two nominees; HBO’s The Pacific and PBS’ Return to Cranford. And it was the same story the year before; HBO’s Generation Kill and PBS’ Little Dorrit, which won.

“If you have that kind of diminished presence in the category, then it needs to be addressed,” Leverence says. “A consolidation is probably long overdue.”

A suggestion to shunt the movie and miniseries categories to the non-televised Creative Arts Awards was never seriously considered, according to Leverence.

“It was mentioned,” he says. “But it was never really on the table.”

The the Academy will expand the combined movie/mini nominees from five to six. As with other Emmy categories, the winner will be selected by a Blue Ribbon panel of voters from the Academy’s 28 peer groups. The performance categories for movies and minis have been merged for several years.

The movie category has continued to field a full compliment of five nominees as networks including Lifetime have stepped up. But the miniseries category has not done so consistently since 2001 when broadcast networks were still bankrolling long-form projects.

Among the broadcast networks, perhaps ABC has kept the candle burning the longest: Anne Frank won the mini Emmy in 2001 and Life with Judy Garland was nominated along with TNT’s Nuremberg, A&E’s Horatio Hornblower and Showtime’s Armistead Maupin’s Further Tales of the City.

The last time a broadcast network had a miniseries in contention was in 2005 when CBS’ Elvis biopic was nominated along with HBO’s Empire Falls, USA’s The 4400 and PBS’ The Lost Prince, which won.

Leverence says the reaction from concerned networks has been one of disappointed resignation.

“I have not gotten any hostile responses,” he says. “It’s more, ‘We saw this thing coming.’"

“We certainly want to still embrace the miniseries and movie-of-the-week,” he continues. “But consolidation seemed timely and appropriate. We’ve come to the end of an era.”

The Emmy nominations will be announced July 14 and the telecast is planned for Sept. 18. As for whether there will actually be a telecast, Leverence isn’t worried.

“I have nothing but the greatest confidence in the ability of the negotiating team,” he says, adding. “We will put together a successful 2011 Emmys -- that will be broadcast locally from the basement of Moose Lodge in Muscatine, Iowa.”