The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences had its reasons for consolidating the movie and miniseries categories two years ago, despite protests from members of the longform-producing community. Although the miniseries had once represented the biggest and brightest fare on TV — from “Roots” to “Shogun” — networks were ordering so few award organizers were having trouble fielding a full slate of contenders, occasionally leaving just a couple of nominees to vie for the statuette.
Still, these things tend to be cyclical, which was one of the arguments against the move at the time. And combined with rules that allow producers considerable latitude in classifying their programs, this year, anyway, the switch has made a hash of the category.
In fact, it’s hard to think of a bigger mess except perhaps the supporting actor/actress categories at the Golden Globes, which throw together everything from series regulars to TV-movie roles to “Saturday Night Live” cast members. And honestly, nobody really cares if the Golden Globes make sense.
As for the movie/miniseries breakdown, the result is a couple of prestige HBO movies — “Behind the Candelabra” and “Phil Spector” — along with an anthology series entered as a miniseries (“American Horror Story: Asylum”), a limited series that wasn’t renewed (“Political Animals”) and two legitimate minis, “The Bible” and “Top of the Lake.”
Setting aside their respective merits (and let’s just say in historical terms, it’s a weak lineup) — and even allowing for a length differential ranging from two hours to 12 — it’s hard to see how someone can logically compare this particular bowl full of apples, oranges and grapefruit.
Lord knows there are enough Emmy categories, and one can appreciate the desire to streamline the telecast. Nevertheless, if the broadcast networks really do make good on their pledges to produce more limited series — coupled with the influx of British dramas that fit the profile — there will likely be more strange bedfellows in the years ahead.
Finally, the situation is further complicated by providing producers some license to call series that in success might have run for years “miniseries” should they happen to get canceled after one season. In programming terms, it’s the equivalent of Pee-wee Herman falling down and saying, “I meant to do that.”
The academy always revisits such matters after the awards, and this is one area almost sure to warrant further discussion. Either that, or with apologies to “American Horror Story,” the inmates are running the asylum.