The Emmys documentary categories aren’t often at the top of many people’s lists of highly anticipated categories, but this year, things look a little different.
The 2020 documentary and nonfiction series nominees are anchored by a trio of buzzy shows that center around three polarizing figures and have sparked more controversy and conversation during the last few months of quarantine than arguably any scripted fare: ESPN’s “The Last Dance,” Hulu’s “Hillary” and Netflix’s “Tiger King.”
Immediately after its premiere back in March, “Tiger King” proved itself to be unavoidable, trending on social media and ranking as the No. 1 show on the streaming service for weeks on end. In the early days of the coronavirus pandemic when those who were newly confined to their homes were just looking for entertainment and distraction, “Tiger King” was there for them.
However, despite the show’s magnetic power and viewership numbers, “Tiger King” caused significant backlash for its seemingly sympathetic portrayal of Joe Exotic, the mercurial zoo owner who tried to have his rival Carole Baskin murdered. The docuseries’ clickbait nature could divide Emmy voters come the awards show September, potentially opening the door for another quarantine mainstay in “The Last Dance.”
While Michael Jordan is clearly a less divisive figure than Joe Exotic, a large part of the show’s popularity was driven by the perceived rift it caused between Jordan and his legendary Chicago Bulls teammate Scottie Pippen.
Pippen has since downplayed his reaction to negative comments Jordan made in the series; however, the controversy still lingers, and that, coupled with the show’s stellar ratings, make it one to watch going forward.
Then there’s “Hillary,” which offered a behind-the-scenes look at the former secretary of state and two-time presidential candidate. The docuseries had people talking about a figure beloved by many in the Democratic Party, but intensely disliked by others on both sides of the aisle. As the country creeps closer to another election featuring Donald Trump, who won over Hillary Clinton in 2016, “Hillary” may stir even more conversation.
The other two nominees in the category are HBO’s “McMillion$” and PBS’ “American Masters,” both of which feature big personalities as well, but thus far in a way that has turned fewer heads. With just under two months to go before the 72nd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards take place on Sept. 20, though, the win may come down to which subjects inspire more current headlines.