A few weeks ago, I wrote about how the major Emmy categories should consider expanding their nominations to 10, given the sheer number of viable contenders in this age of peak TV. Indeed, that’s true for the comedy, drama, limited series and competition races, in which there will absolutely be a ton of snubs when the noms are announced on July 28. And then there’s the TV movie category.
This is a field with surprisingly few major contenders — and many of the frontrunners are actually extensions of long-running TV shows: Netflix’s “El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie,” Amazon Prime Video’s “Transparent Musicale Finale” and Netflix’s “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Kimmy vs. the Reverend.”
The TV movie race also underwent a shakeup this year after the Television Academy first agreed to waive a rule requiring entrants to be at least 75 minutes long, in order to allow “Black Mirror: Smithereens” to compete. After an outcry from Netflix’s competitors, the org reversed course and sent “Black Mirror” to the drama race instead. That will end “Black Mirror’s” three-year TV movie streak, which started with “San Junipero” in 2017, then “USS Callister” in 2018 and “Bandersnatch” last year.
Ironically, in 2011 the TV Academy opted to merge the TV movie and miniseries categories into one because the number of the latter on TV had dropped off to such a degree that it could no longer front its own category. But the org reversed the move three years later, in 2014, as shows including “American Horror Story,” which changes its focus each season, spawned a “limited series” boom, while cable networks looking to get into the scripted game also leaned on short-order, one-season shows.
Now, it’s the limited series race that is booming, while TV movies struggle. But it doesn’t have to. There is a ton of movies made for the small screen, and I’m not just talking about all those Hallmark and Lifetime holiday films.
Yes, there are other contenders beyond the TV-movies-spawned-from-TV-shows this year. But the reviews were mixed for Netflix’s adaptation of the Broadway play “American Son.” Lifetime has a pair of music-themed offerings in “The Clark Sisters: First Ladies of Gospel” and “Patsy & Loretta” (among films of other themes); still keep in mind a basic cable movie has only won the category once — in 2003.
However, the streamers have been acquiring, producing and releasing hundreds of films over the past year. A few of them sneak into the Emmy race, but most don’t. What gives?
According to one insider, it comes down to which department developed and shepherded through the project. If it came from the features team, it’s a film. If it went through the TV department, it’s a telepic. But of course, with the exception of those movies that are extensions of TV shows, the execs are focused on series (be it comedy, drama or limited), not one-offs. And that’s where we end up with so few movies watched by audiences on their TVs … actually making it into the TV awards.
There are a few exceptions this year, of course. “Troop Zero” was purchased by Amazon at Sundance in 2019, but sent on the TV track. “Bad Education” also hit the film festival circuit last year with an eye toward the Oscar race, but was ultimately bought by HBO and moved to the Emmys.
But in a world where small-budget romantic comedies or even big-budget action/adventures don’t have much of a shot at Oscar glory, would it hurt to throw a few of them to the Emmys? “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” and its sequel, “To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You” would be perfect examples of films that might get some Emmy attention, but instead are out of any awards race.