If this summer's Emmy races are half as exciting as this spring's jockeying for Emmy category position, we're gonna have a real barnburner on our hands come August.
Two weeks ago, Netflix fired the first salvo, electing to submit “Orange Is The New Black” in the comedy category after going as a drama for Golden Globes contention. Personally, I think that was the smart and correct choice and, in a perfect world, “Orange” could fill out the supporting actress field on its own. [That won't happen. But it should.]
Then earlier this morning, Showtime unexpectedly announced that after three years as a drama for Emmy purposes, “Shameless” will submit as a comedy this year. I'd always advocated “Shameless” as a comedy in years past and I would put Emmy Rossum in any open field of actress contenders, regardless of category. Still, I'm not quite sure how I feel about the move in this particular season, which has probably been more consistently dramatic in tone than the three that came before. Rossum remains the show's top contender for nods and it's true that the Lead Actress Drama field is absurdly packed — Seven nominees last year and that didn't include Rossum, Tatiana Maslany or Julianna Margulies — but the Lead Actress Comedy is hardly empty, though Laura Dern and Tina Fey will both fall out from last year's Top 6.
But the biggest shoe to drop? Well, that came on Tuesday afternoon, as HBO confirmed that winter sensation “True Detective” will submit in the Drama field, rather than in the Miniseries category.
All along, Sepinwall and I had just assumed that “True Detective” was going to go the miniseries route.
After all, why not?
The template was there courtesy of “American Horror Story,” which pushed the definition of miniseries to its extreme and reaped the Emmy benefits. Put “AHS” in the Drama category, it earns a couple tech nods and probably Jessica Lange gets an annual nomination, but it doesn't come anywhere near the dozen-plus nominations it has received each year as a miniseries.
With a close-ended eight-episode run and the promise of a whole new cast and a new director (or directors) next season, “True Detective” wouldn't have had any trouble sneaking in as a miniseries for Emmy contention this year. Heck, HBO hasn't even officially ordered another season yet, though it seems to be a given.
It seemed like HBO had an easy choice: “True Detective” would be a miniseries, Ryan Murphy's “Normal Heart” would be a movie and “Game of Thrones” would take another stab in the Drama category.
Now? Things are about to get nutty.
“True Detective” will get its Drama Series nomination and Matthew McConaughey will get a nomination even in the packed Lead Actor field.
The big questions come literally everywhere else.
Does HBO submit Woody Harrelson as a supporting actor, even though there's no rational justification for it? As a miniseries lead, Harrelson would have been a lock to play Matt Damon to McConaughey's Michael Douglas for a full year of award shows. As a drama lead, Harrelson doesn't exactly become a longshot, but he has to deal with what is always one of Emmy's toughest categories, even if Damian Lewis submits in a different field and if Emmy voters recognize that nominating the very fine Hugh Bonneville as a lead is inane. [Harrelson would have little trouble making the supporting field, but even that one isn't a cakewalk.]
Can Michelle Monaghan get a supporting actress nod? Submitted in the movie/miniseries field, she'd have been a lock and nobody would have given it a second's thought. Going in the drama field? It's just harder. With “Haunted Houses” as her showcase episode, I think she still makes it, especially with Morena Baccarin a shoo-in to drop out.
Editing? Cinematography? Just about everything technical? That's easy.
The genuine madness will come the when HBO has to figure out how to push eight Nic Pizzolatto scripts and eight pieces of Cary Fukunaga direction.
See, I don't know if you remember, but there was a time maybe one day ago when AMC had reason to believe it was going to get two or three (or more) writing and directing slots for various episodes of “Breaking Bad” and that the network would just have to choose a favorite child to nudge across the finish line. Suddenly, though, AMC might be wondering whether Vince Gilligan's direction on the finale or Rian Johnson's work on “Ozymandias” will be able to top that showy single-shot conclusion to “Who Goes There,” whether Gilligan or Moira Walley-Beckett will be able to stave off Pizzolatto's scripts for “The Long Bright Dark” or “Seeing Things.” [UPDATE: See comments below for Emmy rules on writing credits, which really work against Pizzolatto, who can only take one spot, since he had no co-credited writers on any of the eight episodes.]
When “Breaking Bad” won Outstanding Drama Series last fall, it almost seemed gluttonous. The first part of the final season was, to me, vastly inferior to the second and if “Breaking Bad” was already beginning its extended Emmy coronation that early, this fall's win would be an Emmy night anti-climax we'd have to wait three hours for.
I still think “Breaking Bad” will deserve to win and, if you asked me now, I'd still predict “Breaking Bad” will win. But come July if “True Detective” gets those half-dozen writing and directing nominations I'd have earmarked for “Breaking Bad”? I reserve the right to change my mind. “Breaking Bad” hasn't aired an episode since September and it will already have one Outstanding Drama on its mantle. “True Detective” will be more recent and it will have the shiny newness that led “Homeland” to victory two years ago.
Bryan Cranston was probably going to glide to a fourth win. Instead, Matthew McConaughey will storm in to complete The Helen — Named after Mirren and Hunt — by winning an Oscar and an Emmy in the same year. Sorry, BryCrans. There's nothing you can do.
Emmy Night 2014 was going to be really uncomplicated: “Breaking Bad” was going to win for series, Cranston, Anna Gunn and in the writing and directing categories. Maybe even Dean Norris or Aaron Paul would sneak in. And then “True Detective” was going to win everything on the miniseries side. Everybody was going to be happy.
Now it's complicated.
And it's also complicated for the other competition, especially on HBO. “Game of Thrones” has a lot of creative momentum and the season's first three episodes are great, but it now becomes HBO's secondary focus. “Boardwalk Empire” had another rich and complicated season, but as HBO's third favorite child, it won't even be in the conversation. And “True Blood”? Don't even make me laugh.
We'll have to wait to see which miniseries offerings get to benefit from the lack of “True Detective” competition. “American Horror Story: Coven” was already going to cruise to the usual dozen-plus nods, but what else steps up? Starz conned Golden Globe voters into multiple nods for “The White Queen” and “Dancing on the Edge,” but those don't feel like Emmy shows. FX probably gets to double-down thanks to “Fargo.” Does this mean more available nominations for “Klondike” and “Luther” and “Sherlock”? And what happens with BBC America's “Broadchurch”? I have no clue if it's actually eligible. Something else now gets to win, though!
And somebody else gets to win in the Lead Actor Movie/Miniseries category and you can bet HBO is assuming it'll be Mark Ruffalo for “Normal Heart.”
For me, the bottom line is that I'd have bought “True Detective” in either category. If “AHS” is a miniseries, “True Detective” sure as heckfire is a miniseries. But if HBO wanted to play it straight and aim for the prestige of the Drama category (while opening up a few wins for “Normal Heart”)? That's fine, too. “True Detective” will still be one of the most nominated shows, regardless of the category, but I think this choice may cost it a few wins and a few nominations. But it'll still be a player. And it'll make things interesting, much more interesting that the “Shameless” and “Orange” category decisions which may impact one or two races at the most.
Anyway… I'm sure Sepinwall and I will talk much more about this on the podcast tomorrow.
Are you surprised? Is this a smart move?