“Bobby Fischer Against the World”
In a nutshell: Chess genius Bobby Fischer proves to be an intriguing subject both because of his astronomic rise into the public consciousness and his bewildering fall from grace with age. “Bobby Fischer” looks at how things could’ve been different and asks questions of how shouldering the burden of fame can affect brilliant minds.
Awards pedigree: Helmer-producer Liz Garbus has one Emmy (as producer for “Ghosts of Abu Gharib”).
One critic’s view: “Tactfully but strongly posits a connection between the genius he brought to an infinitely complex game and the madness that defined his relationship to just about everything else.” (New York Times)
“George Harrison: Living in the Material World”
In a nutshell: “The quiet Beatle” gets the Scorsese treatment afforded to Dylan in “No Direction Home.” Interviews with Ringo, Eric Clapton and Klaus Voorman add color to the proceedings, but Harrison’s first wife, Pattie Boyd, is conspicuous in her absence, which might have had to do with Olivia Harrison’s involvement as a producer on the project.
Awards pedigree: N/A
One critic’s view: “A fitting, sonorous tribute to the pop idol, movie producer, spiritual searcher and constant gardener.” (Time)
“Gloria: In Her Own Words”
In a nutshell: Journalist, feminist and activist Gloria Steinem has left a long legacy in the realms of media and women’s rights. Though “Gloria” inherently skews toward her personal thoughts on seminal moments in her life and career, it still serves as a potent reminder of Steinem’s continual relevance.
Awards pedigree: Director and producer Peter Kunhardt has won an Emmy for “Teddy: In His Own Words.”Critics’ quotes: “… a wholly satisfying portrait, even if the view is every bit as rose-colored as Steinem’s glasses.” (Variety)
“Paul Simon’s Graceland Journey: Under African Skies”
In a nutshell: Paul Simon made waves when he broke the U.N.’s cultural boycott of apartheid-era South Africa and traveled to the country to record “Graceland.” “Under African Skies” brings to light the issue without forcefully taking one side or another, instead choosing to document Simon’s own journey to rediscover his past actions and what effect they’ve had on both fans and opponents.
Awards pedigree: Helmer Joe Berlinger has won two Emmys, including for his work on nonfiction series “Ten Days That Unexpectedly Changed America.”
One critic’s view: “Powered by Simon’s brilliance, ‘Under African Skies’ is a cultural lightning bolt that soars on its music and an unshakable belief in the transcendence of art.” (Rolling Stone)
“6 Days to Air: The Making of South Park””
In a nutshell: “6 Days to Air” candidly portrays the relationships of “South Park” showrunners Trey Parker and Matt Stone and their crew, flaunting the talent and work ethic needed to put out what often feels like an irreverent and crass — yet often brilliant — show.
Awards pedigree: N/A
One critic’s view: “… gives a personal look inside the bizarre professional lives of two of the entertainment industry’s most successful creatives.” (IGN)
In a nutshell: Going into its 26th year, “American Masters” continues to represent the gold standard in its profiles of pop culture’s most important luminaries. The past season was characteristically wide-ranging in its choice of subjects, from late-night kingpin Johnny Carson to joke-writer/stand-up comedian-turned-auteur Woody Allen to novelists Harper Lee and Margaret Mitchell.
Awards pedigree: “American Masters” has won seven Emmys in the category.
One critic’s view: “When it comes to biography, no one’s doing it better than ‘American Masters.’ ” (Wall Street Journal)
“Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations””
In a nutshell: One of the original rock stars of the food space even as he ridicules fussy “foodies” and populist celebrity chefs alike, Bourdain mixes his trademark trenchant wit with barbed political humor as he travels the world in search of his next culinary fix. Case in point: This season, Bourdain ventured to Lisbon, Portugal, to investigate a rapidly growing cultural and culinary scene within the greater context of the crippling euro debt crisis.
Awards pedigree: N/A
One critic’s view: “… showing the grittier side of travel to other countries is what makes ‘No Reservations’ compelling television.” (Miami New Times)
In a nutshell: The series finale “On Thin Ice” garnered positive nods for its focus on the dangers of climate change but hit some controversy with domestic nets, which expressed concerns of airing it in light of climate change’s role as a key issue in the upcoming elections.
Awards pedigree: Exec producer Alastair Fothergill, along with producer Mark Linfield, has won an Emmy in the same category for “Planet Earth.”
One critic’s view: “Frozen Planet (is) perhaps the single greatest accomplishment in nature TV history” (New York Post)
“Inside the Actors Studio”
In a nutshell: In its 18th season, James Lipton and “Inside the Actors Studio” mixes idolization with a serious examination of the performer’s craft. Particularly memorable was the cast of “Glee,” with Matthew Morrison, Lea Michele, Chris Colfer offering often-hilarious insights: Morrison, for one, described his time learning the electric boogaloo as an Orange County “gang” member.
Awards pedigree: The show has been nominated 13 times in this category.
One critic’s view: “… what’s amazing about James Lipton, the host of Bravo’s interview series ‘Inside the Actors Studio, is that he puckers up for celebrities while maintaining a magisterial, professorial tone …” (Los Angeles Times)
“The Weight of the Nation”
In a nutshell: This four-part docu series examines the multifaceted issue of American obesity, including the science behind fat and the societal and industrial factors that play into the epidemic. The series doesn’t shy away from pointing its finger at all guilty parties, including the diet industry for marketing unhelpful gimmicks instead of supporting true solutions.
Awards pedigree: This is helmer Dan Chaykin’s first nomination, while exec producers Sheila Nevins and John Hoffman have won a combined 27 primetime Emmys.
One critic’s view: “… delivers a powerful and important message … this comprehensive project ought to be required viewing.” (Variety)
Boy and girls in the brand
And the nominees are:
Reality Program | Competition Program | Reality Host | Nonfiction Program | Nonfiction Series