Made-for-TV movies and miniseries have long been TV formats in decline — so much so that this year, the TV Academy merged the two into one category.
Ironically, miniseries could be seeing a resurgence.
ReelzChannel’s “The Kennedys” — after being dropped amid great controversy by History — surprised the industry by picking up 10 Emmy nominations, including one in the movie-mini category as well as acting nominations for stars Greg Kinnear, Barry Pepper and Tom Wilkinson.
“I was surprised at how surprised everyone was,” says ReelzChannel CEO Stan E. Hubbard, who stepped into acquire the hot-potato project last winter.
It premiered on ReelzChannel in April to record ratings, even though Reelz scheduled it like networks once scheduled miniseries — over eight consecutive nights.
It did so well that ReelzChannel plans to acquire more miniseries and air them in the same fashion.
This December, Reelz will air “Pillars of the Earth,” which earned seven Emmy noms for Starz including movie-mini. Reelz also licensed some older miniseries, including CBS’ “Lonesome Dove,” as well as NBC’s “Jackie, Ethel and Joan,” “10.5,” “10.5 Apocalypse” and “Robin Cook’s Invasion.” This November, Reelz will re-air “The Kennedys.”
“We really think ReelzChannel can embrace the miniseries as an entertainment form,” says Hubbard.
While ReelzChannel is bringing miniseries to auds via traditional scheduling, viewers’ ability to watch miniseries at their leisure via streaming media or on iPads, smart phones or other mobile devices also might inject some life into the genre.
“Before digital video recorders, video on demand and mobile devices, people might think, ‘Oh, I better not get into this miniseries that will run across several nights,’ ” says Rebecca Eaton, executive producer of PBS’ “Masterpiece” and “Downton Abbey,” which was nominated for 11 Emmys. “Now that people can watch this programming in so many different ways at so many different times, I think that’s really good for us.”
This year, PBS and Masterpiece’s “Downton” was a smash success for the network. In January, it will premiere the series’ sequel, “Downton Abbey II.”
As far as the Emmys go, TV Academy senior veep of awards John Leverence believes that having six programs to choose from is a great improvement. Last year, there were only two nominations in the miniseries category: PBS’ “Return to Cranford” and HBO’s “The Pacific,” which steamrolled through the awards ceremony.
“It was a situation in which we historically had a paucity of entries on the miniseries side,” says Leverence. “It seems like minis are something of an endangered species like the bald eagle. At this stage, they seem to be light in the nest. With the consolidation, we definitely had plenty from which to pick.”
The category is led by HBO’s “Mildred Pierce,” this year’s most nominated program with 21, including a directing nod for Todd Haynes and acting nominations for Kate Winslet, Melissa Leo, Mare Winningham, Evan Rachel Wood, Guy Pearce and Brian F. O’Byrne.
HBO, which once again dominates this category, has two other nominees: telepics “Cinema Verite,” starring James Gandolfini and Diane Lane, and “Too Big to Fail,” starring William Hurt.
While PBS recognizes that beating HBO is going to be a tough battle, its producers are glad for the opportunity to fight.
“HBO has very deep pockets for awards campaigns, which we do not,” says “Downton Abbey” exec producer Gareth Neame. “We are slightly the underdog, but the quality of programming on ‘Masterpiece’ is so good and I like to think that the TV Academicians recognize that. That’s why PBS punches higher than its weight.”
Minis surprise with bounce-back year | ‘Kennedys’ path to Emmys a saga of its own | The nominees