Pythons, Burns compete for nonfiction prize

Eclectic category honors memorable projects

“American Experience”
PBS
Emmy pedigree: Two wins, plus one previous nom
Best scene: In Ric Burns’ “Into the Deep: America, Whaling and the World,” the Essex is rammed in 1820 by a sperm whale twice as long as the ship, sending 20 sailors onto lifeboats, where they eventually resort to cannibalism.
Why it might win: A striking range of documentaries eloquently explores the national identity, character and culture that makes us American.
Maybe not: They cover such a variety of subject matter and cinematic styles that voters might not recognize them as a single series.

“American Masters”
PBS
Emmy pedigree: Five wins, plus two previous noms
Best scene: “The Doors: When You’re Strange” induces a surreal mood around late singer Jim Morrison, blending dreamlike Doors songs with impressionistic ’60s experimental film footage of Morrison traveling down a desert highway.
Why it might win: Its portraits smartly gauge our cultural landscape from 19th-century novelist Louisa May Alcott to modern architecture’s I.M. Pei to drug-fueled rock ‘n’ roll.
Maybe not: A dramatic field of fellow contenders might squeeze out artsy bios this time.

“Deadliest Catch”
Discovery
Emmy pedigree: Four previous noms
Best scene: In “No Second Chance,” the Wizard crew is swamped by a huge wave that causes major injuries, embodying both the story’s life-and-death stakes and the production crew’s skill under fire.
Why it might win: It’s the epitome of docuseries drama where real-life proves more thrilling than fiction.
Maybe not: Emmy hasn’t shown much love for cable “reality” series.

“Life”
Discovery
Emmy pedigree: First nom
Best scene: Three cheetah brothers hunt together to stunningly bring down an ostrich that’s twice as heavy, demonstrating teamwork not previously known to man.
Why it might win: The only thing more impressive than the BBC nature unit’s eye-popping global photography might be its shooters’ patience in lingering for days to capture unseen animal activities.
Maybe not: Discovery clumsily replaced revered naturalist David Attenborough’s British narration with Oprah Winfrey’s American simplification.

“Monty Python: Almost the Truth”
IFC
Emmy pedigree: First nom
Best scene: The BBC’s bizarre attempts to censor the cheeky comedy of “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” manage to confuse a severed leg with a penis and rose wine for menstrual fluid. Later, the memorial service for Graham Chapman turns into a boisterous affair with irreverent reminiscences by fellow Pythons John Cleese and Michael Palin.
Why it might win: This loving and loony portrait evokes why the Pythons loom as the most revered comedy icons of the past two generations, influencing everything from standup to “South Park.”
Maybe not: They were so far out of the mainstream, they’re still out of the mainstream.

“The National Parks: America’s Best Idea”
PBS
Emmy pedigree: First nom
Best scene: Mountain prophet John Muir lyrically preaches the 19th-century gospel of Yosemite, introducing the notion that natural beauty should be accessible to all American citizens, not just the wealthy.
Why it might win: It’s practically patriotic voting for “America’s Best Idea,” especially when it looks so gorgeous and feels so profound.
Maybe not: Burns isn’t the slam dunk one might think in this category. He did win for his epics “The Civil War” and “Baseball,” but not for “Jazz” or “The War.”

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