Move to be implemented for next year's awards show

After two consecutive years in which the Primetime Emmy Awards fielded only two miniseries nominees, TV Academy governors have decided to consolidate it the with made-for-TV category.

Merger of the two awards becomes effective with this year’s telecast. The move by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences stems from a longstanding rule stating that any category lacking five nominees for two years in a row can be eliminated, consolidated with another award or left unchanged.

Last year produced miniseries nominations for HBO’s “The Pacific,” which won, and PBS’ “Cranford.” In 2009, PBS upstaged HBO when “Little Dorrit” defeated “Generation Kill.”

The acting races for both categories are already combined.

Miniseries and telepics will appear as a single category on the nominating ballot, and the top six vote-getters will earn noms. When such a change was previously proposed, some longform producers objected, maintaining that TV movies running two hours or less would face a handicap against productions that extend to six, eight or 10 hours.

In a statement announcing the shift, Acad officials noted that the Emmys now are structurally aligned with other groups — the Writers Guild, Directors Guild and Producers Guild — who combine the two categories.

HBO has long been one of the few aggressive players left in both the telepic and miniseries category — specifically the latter — and this year it will have the five-part Kate Winslet starrer “Mildred Pierce” in contention. PBS’ “Masterpiece,” meanwhile, has received critical huzzahs for its mini “Downton Abbey,” while Sundance’s six-hour “Carlos” landed on some film critics’ top 10 lists.

Other miniseries competish that may be in the nomination mix include BBC America’s “Luther,” Starz’s “Pillars of the Earth” and PBS’ new version of “Upstairs Downstairs,” which premieres in April.John Leverence, who serves as senior VP of awards at the TV Academy, said the number of recent miniseries entries was a major factor in the decision. In 2005, there were nine miniseries entered, while last year there were only five.

Normally about one-third of the entries makes the nominations cut. From Leverence’s estimation, there would have been eight submissions this year for top miniseries.

In a nod to those who would argue that there will now be some minis or movies that might get left out, Leverence said the board decided to expand the new consolidated category from five nominations to six.”Masterpiece” producer Rebecca Eaton said the rule change reinforced the fact U.S. nets have, for the most part, abandoned the miniseries in recent years.

“I think it illuminates how much TV has changed. (Minis) used to be a vibrant format,” Eaton told Variety. “I think American television has done such wonderful work and you look back to miniseries like ‘Roots’ and ‘Winds of War.’ It’s a loss that they’re not being made anymore because there are so many fantastic American stories and books that can be adapted.”

Mikael Salomon, who has directed a handful of miniseries, including “The Company,” “Band of Brothers” and “The Andromeda Strain,” added, “Obviously, it’s sad what’s going on with miniseries right now, but I understand they want to speed up the show and that’s what this is all about.”

Move to combine the two categories comes amid complaints from the broadcast side that HBO has dominated much of the Emmy show — last year sweeping the longform awards in the primary telecast. This rule change, which arrives in the midst of negotiations between the TV Academy and the networks in putting the framework together for a new telecast deal, could be seen as a concession to the broadcasters to take some of the starch out of HBO, though sources insist that wasn’t the motivation.

The previous Emmy contract expired after last year’s show, which was aired by NBC. The eight-year pact, signed in 2002, was worth $50 million to the Academy, with the host net paying a $7.5 million license fee.

When asked if there was much debate about the rule change at the Board of Governors meeting, Leverence said, “It was a strongly agreed-upon move. It wasn’t a situation in which we were at the beginning at the trend. There had been enough years to confirm the widely held opinion that the consolidation was valid.”

Leverence acknowledged that having 90-minute movies compete with miniseries could present an “apples vs. oranges” debate, but that’s not an unusual circumstance when it comes to the Emmy.

In the variety, music or comedy special category last year, “The Kennedy Center Honors” defeated a Bill Maher standup concert and the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame’s 25th anniversary special. In variety, music or comedy series, winner “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart’s” competition included “Saturday Night Live” and “The Tonight Show With Conan O’Brien.”

This isn’t the first major change the TV Acad has proposed for the Emmycast in recent years. In 2009, the org tried to “time-shift” eight of the 28 awards presentations — recording them earlier and truncated their screen time — in order to streamline the telecast. The cuts were to come from the writing, directing, performing and producing categories. However, following a major backlash that included signed petitions from the guilds, that proposal was scrapped.

The Acad also made two other changes for 2011: Miniseries will be entered in the original main title theme music category; and cinematography for half-hour and hourlong series will be reconfigured to cinematography for multi-camera series and single-camera series.

(Brian Lowry contributed to this report.)

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