Emmy voters displayed a taste for fact-based flair in the miniseries, movie or dramatic special writing competish this year, nominating three projects based on true stories and characters.
Danny Strong, the Emmy-nominated writer of HBO’s “Recount,” says true events are “inherently dramatic,” and Kirk Ellis, the Emmy-nominated scribe of the pay cabler’s “John Adams,” believes there is a real hunger for factual entertainment.
“There’s a depth in them you don’t find in most stories,” Ellis says.
Even Ricky Gervais, who with Stephen Merchant received a nom for their fictional “Extras: The Extra Special Season Finale,” notes that bits of “Extras” were semiautobiographical and that the writers’ love for realism can be seen in the show.
“There is a real investment there when something feels real,” Gervais says, “and I have always said you want the characters to be as funny onscreen as your friends, because in real life those are the people that really make you laugh.”
Merchant adds it’s the payoff that comes from realism that is so rewarding.
“You have a little more investment put into something if it is based on true events,” he says.
In the cases of other nominees, fact and fiction cross paths in interesting ways. PBS’ “Masterpiece” presentation of “Cranford,” though fictional, was adapted by Heidi Thomas from a 19th-century Elizabeth Gaskell novel modeled on an actual town. “Bernard and Doris,” penned by Hugh Costello for HBO, depicts true characters but fictionalizes some scenes.
“I never wanted to do a biopic,” Costello says. “When you are dealing with someone like Doris (Duke), the temptation is to throw everything in.”
Hugh Costello, “Bernard and Doris” (HBO)
Kirk Ellis, “John Adams” (HBO)
Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, “Extras: The Extra Special Series Finale” (HBO)
Danny Strong, “Recount” (HBO)
Heidi Thomas, “Cranford” (PBS)