×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

‘Masters’ challenged for domain

Upstarts look to unseat artsy PBS series to win Emmy's hodgepodge nonfiction category

Perennial Emmy winner “American Masters” is going to come into some unconventional competition this year in the nonfiction series category, a hodgepodge that ranges from talkshows to real-life versions of “Law & Order.”

“Masters,” a PBS series featuring in-depth profiles of celebrated artists, has taken the crown five of the past seven years. Last fall’s Martin Scorsese-helmed edition, “No Direction Home — Bob Dylan,” already nabbed a Peabody Award during last month’s ceremony. (Series creator Susan Lacy took great pains and more than a decade to persuade the Dylan camp to collaborate on the film.)

But wresting away the top prize can be done, and executives overseeing several of the category’s mainstays are submitting episodes that highlight the differences between entrants.

Last year, PBS’s sweeping multipart doc “Broadway: The American Musical” took the nod, besting competition from placeholders “Biography” and “Inside the Actors Studio” as well as newer nominees “Cold Case Files” and IFC showbiz talker “Dinner for Five.”

Network brass say the murkiness of the category — which has at times been called “nonfiction series (traditional)” and “nonfiction series informational” — makes it tough to gauge what will appeal to Emmy voters.

Deirdre O’Hearn, A&E’s VP of nonfiction and alternative programming, says her channel is submitting a two-hour “Biography” episode featuring Marlon Brando this year, which if nominated, will likely face off against a range of formats — the net’s own “Cold Case Files” and “Intervention” potentially among them.

Brando makes sense, even while most regular contenders including “Biography” have tended to profile more contemporary personalities to keep up in the ratings race. O’Hearn, who oversees the 19-year-old “Biography” franchise, says synching up audience tastes with Academy members is no easy feat, but she feels this year’s choice of Brando stands a good shot.

“We’ve been skaking up the format a lot, and we encourage our producers not to be formulaic. But ‘Biography’ is a landmark series and, really, it is the one that everyone has copied,” O’Hearn says. “It’s why we get acknowledged every year. It’s at the top of the genre.”

Bravo senior VP of programming Frances Berwick says much debate went into choosing the submission for “Actors Studio” — internally referred to as the “Susan Lucci of nonfiction series,” having been nominated for the past several years without a win. The network went with an episode featuring comedian Dave Chappelle.

“It’s a little out of left field, but we just felt it was an incredible interview and (host James Lipton) was able to get so much that frankly the other (Chappelle) interviews didn’t,” Berwick says. “It’s perfectly representative of the depth of the show. Jim is able to elicit new information, not trite latenight talk show spiel. His guests are talking from the heart and about their craft.

“We’re veterans when it comes to not winning. I don’t know if that will ever change,” Berwick adds.

Though E! has taken great pains to bolster its top-performing “True Hollywood Story,” adding more contemporary faces and topics to the mix, execs will attempt to appeal to a hipper slice of the Academy. “THS” has been nominated a handful of times, but has yet to win.

Betsy Rott, VP of programming for E!, is going with the franchise’s hour devoted to the early-’90s sitcom “Home Improvement” in hopes of tapping into the pop-culture nostalgia of younger Acad members. “It reflects what ‘THS’ is all about: good, fun, dramatic stories about Hollywood. ‘Home Improvement’ was a popular show that, ironically, didn’t get a lot of love from Emmy,” Rott notes.

This past season, E! also spun off “True Hollywood Story Investigates,” which focuses on topical specials such as showbiz divorces. Rott is entering an episode devoted to plastic surgery, with its tie-ins to FX drama “Nip/Tuck” and E!’s own reality series “Dr. 90210.”

Whatever the case, Berwick says all that the non-“American Masters” candidates can do is hope for the best.

“There are a lot of apples and oranges in the category. ‘Masters’ costs over $1 million an hour and is crafted by an auteur filmmaker over the course of years sometimes,” she says. “That’s completely different from what we do, or what the other networks do. It’s frustrating, but all we can do is wait to see what happens.”

More TV

  • 'Death Stranding' is a 'Playground of

    'Death Stranding' is a 'Playground of Possibilities,' Will Make You Cry

    The Thursday evening conversation between game-making auteur Hideo Kojima and “Walking Dead” actor Norman Reedus about highly-anticipated PlayStation 4 game “Death Stranding” was filled with interesting anecdotes, but little in the way of hard fact. Instead, Kojima made a promise of sorts to the audience and seemingly fans everywhere waiting for more news on the [...]

  • Ariana Grande Olivia Munn Michael Che

    Celebrities vs. Critics: Why This Battle Has No Winners (Column)

    When actor Olivia Munn tweeted a “short essay on…ugly behaviors” late Wednesday night, she insisted that a blog had been unfairly maligning her for years. She wrote that she wanted to confront the idea that baseless critiques, particularly those aimed at women, are never okay no matter how famous the target may be. On the [...]

  • ‘Peaky Blinders’ Virtual Reality Game in

    ‘Peaky Blinders’ Virtual Reality Game Will Pitch Players Into the Action

    “Peaky Blinders” fans will be able to join the gang – virtually – in a new VR game that will allow players to interact with characters from the hit series. Start-up immersive studio Maze Theory teamed with the show’s producers and is making the game, which will launch in 2020. Artificial intelligence technology means characters [...]

  • TV News Roundup: HBO's 'Deadwood: The

    TV News Roundup: HBO Releases 'Deadwood: The Movie' Trailer

    In today’s TV news roundup, HBO released the trailer for the “Deadwood” film, and CNN announced a premiere date for “Apollo 11.”  DATES The documentary “Apollo 11” from director/producer Todd Douglas Miller will premiere on CNN Sunday, June 23 at 9 p.m. Using only archival sources, the film captures NASA’s 1969 Apollo 11 mission. FIRST [...]

  • shannon ryan

    Shannon Ryan Joins Disney TV, ABC as Marketing Chief

    Former Fox Television chief marketing officer Shannon Ryan has been tapped as the new president of marketing for ABC Entertainment and Disney Television Studios. The announcement was made by Karey Burke, president of ABC Entertainment, and Craig Hunegs, president of Disney Television Studios, to whom she will report. Rumours had been circling for a while [...]

  • Dan Lin's Rideback, MRC Announce Writers

    Dan Lin's Rideback, MRC Announce First Class of Writers and Mentors for TV Incubator

    Rideback, Dan Lin’s production company, and MRC have announced the inaugural class of writers and mentors for their TV incubator.  The new TV writers residency program, which was launched in February, offers a paid, eight-month residency program to a group of writers who have each previously been staffed on series and want to create their [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content