Despite paucity of possibilities, separate category will remain

Considering the triumph of WWII miniseries “The Pacific” in this year’s Emmy nominations (an explosive haul of 24), it would seem counterintuitive to claim that the miniseries format is in crisis.

Unless, of course, one takes a gander at the minis category, in which “The Pacific” has but a single competitor, PBS’ “Return to Cranford.” This represents the second year in a row that the Emmy miniseries slot has boasted a scant two nominations, as well as the fourth time in the past decade that the category has been limited to three noms or fewer.

Of course, the paucity of nominations here isn’t a reflection of quality so much as product: According to the TV Academy’s regulations, the total nominations in the category can only represent one third of the number of eligible series. Such a poverty of production has increased calls for the miniseries category to be merged with its more prolific cousin, the made-for-TV movie, which this year claimed a rather robust yield of six nominations.

Indeed, the awards for miniseries directing, writing and acting have long since been combined with those of the made-for, and have rarely seemed to suffer as a result. (In the miniseries/made-for directing category, for example, one must go back to 2003 to find a year in which a mini director failed to make the final cut, and six of the last decade’s winners came from the mini realm.)

For John Leverence, senior VP of awards at the TV Academy, combining the categories might make for a more healthy race in lean years, but it would also be a betrayal of the miniseries’ inherent qualities and legacy.

“The Board of Governors has discussed (merging the categories) before, and there has always been a feeling that these are two distinct programming entities,” he says. “Asking voters to rank ‘The Pacific’ alongside (made-for) ‘Temple Grandin’ would be apples and oranges.”

Yet he acknowledges that, with the small number of minis being produced, the entire format could appear further weakened by its Emmy representation. “Theoretically, if you only had three eligible series one year,” he posits, “then the total nominations would be one, and the category would seem to be dwindling and going away.”

Despite the real danger facing the category, Leverence maintains that miniseries will continue to have a dedicated home at the Emmys. Furthermore, he notes that the Academy has something resembling a moral obligation to protect the format.

“When they are produced, miniseries demonstrate the unique ability of television to do Dickensian-length programming,” he maintains. “The miniseries has a legacy dating back to the beginning of primetime television — or even before that with ‘Lux Radio Theater.’ It’s a very, very long tradition, and the Academy respects that.”

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more