Minis & Movies: Smorgasbord defies easy judging

Road to the Emmys 2012: Movies & Miniseries

Jimmy Kimmel, this year’s Emmy host, joked recently that he was thinking of getting his show to qualify as a movie or miniseries. “It seems like a soft category,” he deadpanned.

“Soft” might be unfair, but the movies-minis category was the talk of the post-Emmy noms for its diverse, even schizophrenic qualities. Nominated this year are two movies (HBO’s “Game Change” and “Hemingway & Gellhorn”), two second-season limited series (British imports “Luther” and “Sherlock: A Scandal in Belgravia”), an anthology series originally billed as a drama (FX’s “American Horror Story,” which had a pilot episode, normally a no-no for a miniseries) and one traditional miniseries (History’s “Hatfields & McCoys”).

Charges cropped up that some series repositioned themselves as miniseries in order to reap Emmy nominations they might not have garnered in the drama category (for example, Ashley Judd was nominated for lead movies-mini actress for the cancelled ABC series “Missing”). Ryan Murphy requested his “American Horror Story” be considered in the movie-mini category; his show was rewarded with 17 nominations.

“If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck and tastes like a duck, it’s still not a chicken,” says Leslie Greif, producer of “Hatfields & McCoys,” noting the disparity between the nominees. “But the Academy is saying, we’re all fowl. In fact, we’re all different art forms.”

So how does a production distinguish itself among such disparate entries? In the case of “Hemingway & Gellhorn,” director Philip Kaufman suggests, you emphasize its epic grandeur and historically accurate depictions of its characters.

“We never thought of it as making a TV movie,” says Kaufman, and, in fact, the film was screened at the Cannes Film Festival. “That’s the way I would’ve wanted to make it as a feature. It expands the possibilities for making this kind of movie. We wanted that big epic sweep. Movies in this category have been excellent, but haven’t gone for such size and scope. The HBO parameters are stretched a bit here.

“The great reward was the responses from Gellhorn and Hemingway experts. Sandy Gellhorn wrote the most beautiful letter (on) how we got his mom exactly right.”

“Hemingway & Gellhorn” was Kaufman’s first TV directorial job in almost 50 years in the business. “We don’t know people in that world, so we haven’t worked the room, so to speak,” he say”So it was extremely gratifying that people we hadn’t worked with chose fit to nominate us in all those categories.”

Greif, too, says “Hatfields & McCoys,” which earned 16 nominations and broke History ratings records by averaging nearly 14 million viewers, hopes to exploit its grandeur.

“Bringing Kevin Costner (as Hatfield patriarch Anse) to television was a big event,” he says. “All the reasons I couldn’t get it made for years were all the reasons it was such a success. No one wants Westerns — kids aren’t interested, women won’t watch it — it’s an old-fashioned theme. In the end, everyone did care and it brought in women and young adults. A story about family rivalry and betrayal hooks the fabric of America.”

Greif won’t dis his competition — “They’re all wonderful; ‘American Horror Story’ is as brilliant as ‘Mad Men’ and ‘Breaking Bad’ ” — but he believes the category is being exploited by some.

“Unfortunately, producers of some of those shows manipulate or spin the rules because they didn’t have the confidence to be in the right category. Producers and production companies will fight for their product, and I respect that. But manipulating the system casts a poor shadow on an art form that’s struggling. The Academy should set standards with integrity and should be unquestioned.”

Highlighting the burden on the voters, St. Petersburg Times critic Eric Deggans says, “Emmy categories haven’t kept up with the pace of TV’s evolution.

“It’s time for Emmy to pull together a panel of members to look at the categories and come up with new definitions,” Deggans says. “I’m not even sure ‘miniseries’ should be a category anymore.”

Road to the Emmys 2012: Movies and Miniseries
Smorgasbord defies easy judging | ‘Sherlock’ suffers no fools Stateside | Dark and stormy ‘Luther’ presses on Ruth-lessly | Longform serenade