Emmy Predictions: Movies and Miniseries Contenders Chase ‘Normal Heart,’ ‘Fargo’

Two white-hot productions — HBO’s “The Normal Heart” and FX’s “Fargo” — explain why the Television Academy opted this year to break up movies and miniseries into separate Emmy categories once again.

The TV Acad combined the top longform categories in 2011 when miniseries were extremely rare creatures on TV. But just three years later, whether they’re called “event series” or “limited series,” multi-part longform productions are busting out all over the place, even on the broadcast nets.

HBO’s bold move to field its eight-hour romp in the Louisiana swamps, “True Detective,” as a drama series cleared the way for “Fargo” to be the undisputed frontrunner in the miniseries heat. And HBO’s “Normal Heart” is the one to catch in the movie race.

Indeed, the real footraces in the longform category this year are unfolding in the acting categories, which remain a combo plate of movies and minis. The performances “Fargo’s” Billy Bob Thornton and “Normal Heart’s” Mark Ruffalo make for a tough choice in the lead actor field — and that’s before voters consider other good work done by contenders such as Chiwetel Ejiofor in Starz’s “Dancing on the Edge,” or Benedict Cumberbatch in “Sherlock: His Last Vow.”

There are a handful of longform contenders that seem unlikely to crack the top program categories but will doubtless be recognized with acting noms.

Top of that list is probably PBS’ “The Hollow Crown,” a four-part “Great Performances” production that assembled four Shakespeare plays into a single historical narrative. The mini itself is too low-profile to compete against high-wattage rivals, but performances by Ben Whishaw, Jeremy Irons and Tom Hiddleston are likely to be Emmy bait. The same is true for Rebecca Ferguson, star of Starz’s “The White Queen.” Minnie Driver is a safe bet to be recognized for “Return to Zero,” about a couple’s struggle after enduring the pain of a stillbirth.

After “Fargo,” the slam-dunk in the mini heat is another FX entry, “American Horror Story: Coven.” The steady stream of noms for Starz’s “Dancing on the Edge” during the past nine months will propel the 1930s-set murder mystery to an Emmy berth. BBC America’s “Luther” will be back in contention, after landing four Emmy noms in 2012.

Lifetime’s “Bonnie and Clyde” drew decidedly mixed reviews, but voters will likely acknowledge the effort put into the period piece, as well as A+E Networks’ effort to “event-ize” the mini by simulcasting the four hours on A&E and History as well as Lifetime.

The wild card in the race is HBO’s “Treme.” Dearly beloved by a small but devoted band of followers, “Treme” did not generate the kind of effusive praise from TV critics as “The Wire.” And even the gushing for “The Wire” wasn’t enough to bring David Simon’s urban epic an Emmy nom, so it’s a longshot that “Treme” will be recognized in its final year.

As for the movies, the pickings are pretty slim with networks devoting so much energy to multi-part productions.

“Normal Heart,” the heartbreaking story of the early days of the AIDS crisis, is beyond a lock — it’s a deadbolt. So is Lifetime’s “The Trip to Bountiful,” a classy production of a heart-tugging story starring Cicely Tyson and Blair Underwood.

BBC America’s “Burton and Taylor” makes it on the star power of Dominic West and Helena Bonham Carter. “Sherlock: His Last Vow” will ride the momentum of Cumberbatch and co-star Martin Freeman, who could be a double nominee for his work in “Fargo.”

The wild card here is “Return to Zero,” an indie production that was picked up by Lifetime after making the film fest rounds. It’s a low-profile entry this year, but the sophistication of its treatment of an impossibly difficult subject could easily impress voters.

Here are our picks for miniseries:

  • “American Horror Story: Coven” (FX)
  • “Bonnie and Clyde” (Lifetime)
  • “Dancing on the Edge” (Starz)
  • “Fargo” (FX)
  • “Luther” (BBC America)
  • Wild card: “Treme” (HBO)

Here are our picks for movie:

  • “Burton and Taylor” (BBC America)
  • The Normal Heart” (HBO)
  • “Sherlock: His Last Vow” (PBS)
  • “The Trip to Bountiful” (Lifetime)
  • Wild card: “Return to Zero” (Lifetime)

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