Emmys 2012: A Wild Year for Movies and Minis

2012-08 REV Game Change H
Phillip V. Caruso/HBO

John McCain (Ed Harris) and running mate Sarah Palin (Julianne Moore) take on the 2008 presidential election.

As shows jump awards categories like jackrabbits and Brit contestants loom large, here are 10 to bet on.

One of the oddest contests in the entire Emmy race is the made-for-TV movies/miniseries category. How can you compare a two-hour movie with a 12-part miniseries? And how can you keep track of which is what when contenders switch categories on you?

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In this year’s strange race, 2011 winner Downton Abbey (PBS) moves to the drama series category after success gave it a second season. FX’s American Horror Story, which also has a second season coming up, looked like a drama but has qualified for the movie/mini competition as an “anthology,” supposedly improving its Emmy chances.

“It’s very confusing,” says one voter, producer Joey Berlin. “And no human can see everything on TV.”

To help clarify, here are 10 picks as the likeliest Emmy nominees and the factors working for — and against — each.

HBO has won nine movie Emmys and six for miniseries since 2000, and in the 2012 merged category, Jay Roach’s gripping drama about the war between Sarah Palin (Julianne Moore) and the regretful campaign strategist who recruited her (Woody Harrelson) is the one to beat. The academy skews liberal, which helps, and Moore’s awards-worthy, front-runner impersonation of Palin has voters saying, “Tina who?”

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Now that Game of Thrones and True Blood have made genre fare more respectable to the status-conscious academy, the beneficiary might be this haunted-house saga. And thanks to her two career Oscars and an Emmy win in this category for HBO’s Grey Gardens, Jessica Lange is a clear front-runner in 2012.

Despite middling reviews and a preposterous (yet true) plot about two warlike writers plunged into the Spanish Civil War, the star power of Oscar winner Nicole Kidman and Golden Globe winner Clive Owen might propel this to a nom.

Long snubbed, History finally got traction with 2011’s quadruple Emmy winner Gettysburg. Now Kevin Costner and his favorite director, Kevin Reynolds, bring the channel what it needs to get to the next Emmy level: a big-budget epic.

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LUTHER (BBC America)
Idris Elba’s Emmy nom last year made him a usual suspect to the academy, instead of just some Brit with a weird name. His 2012 Golden Globe win and Critics’ Choice noms for the show and for Elba, plus big-screen roles in Thor and Prometheus, add up to a convincing rap sheet that might get the gumshoe show its just reward.

THE HOUR (BBC America)
When Lindsay Lohan tried to hobnob at HBO’s Golden Globes party with the high-IQ cast of Hour (including Globe and Critics’ Choice nominee Dominic West), they were polite but icily distant. You could tell who the rising stars were: the Oxbridge-educated denizens of a show about Cold War-era radio newshounds. It’s Mad Men-ish, period drama and British — triple catnip to Emmy voters.

With four Emmy noms last year, plus Critics’ Choice nominations this year for the show, stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Lara Pulver could make Emmy as helplessly happy as a client of Pulver’s dominatrix character.

The BAFTA-sweeping drama stars ubiquitous British hunk West as a more interesting serial killer than Dexter and art house star Emily Watson as his social worker. And it’s all true, something Emmy loves.

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Superproducer Scott Rudin and double Oscar- and Globe-nominated playwright David Hare might have a winner in this spy mystery starring 2012 Globe nominee Bill Nighy.

Julian Fellowes’ sinking-ship saga is not a slam-dunk crowd-pleaser as was his Downton Abbey, but like 18 of 23 movie/mini winners since 2000, it’s a history-based heartstring-puller. And still-strong Downton momentum could keep this ship’s hopes afloat.