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Which Is a Miniseries, 'True Detective' or 'American Horror Story?'

According to the Emmys, it's probably the opposite of what you'd believe.

by Liam Mathews

Today FX Networks CEO John Landgraf criticized the producers of HBO's True Detective for submitting their show for Emmy consideration as a drama series, rather than a miniseries, while defending his network's choice to submit each season of American Horror Story as a miniseries, and calling on the Television Academy, the organization that presents the Emmys, to reform its nominating criteria. Presently, anthology shows including American Horror Story and True Detective have "dual eligibilty," meaning the show's producers get to choose which category, Outstanding Drama Series or Outstanding Miniseries or TV Movie, they feel their show belongs in. I think that both of these shows are miscategorized, and producer-selected submission should be abolished in favor of independent categorization.

Landgraf tells Deadline that Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson's limited-time involvement with True Detective should exclude them from competition with open-ended series saying, “It’s unfair for HBO to get actors that you can’t normally get to do a series who would do a close-ended show and pack the (drama actor) category. That is patently unfair to people like (FX's The Americans’) Matthew Rhys who signed for 7 years.” He also defended the right of American Horror Story, an ongoing show with self-contained seasonal plots, to submit as a miniseries every year, saying, "the definition should be a miniseries has a story that ends, a series has a story that continues on.” 

Landgraf is half-right. True Detective should be categorized as a miniseries, but American Horror Story should be categorized as a drama series, and the Emmys' submission process is flawed. Allowing producers to select their own category makes it easy for them to manipulate the awards. If American Horror Story was ever submitted as a drama series, it would compete for nominations against Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Game of Thrones, Downton Abbey, and many other worthy, more universally acclaimed series. The miniseries or movie category is a less crowded field, so American Horror Story has a better chance of securing a nomination there, as it has the past two years and likely will again this year. Few critics would claim that American Horror Story is one of the five best drama series, so going to the miniseries category is a savvy but uncompetitive move. 

Why is American Horror Story allowed to submit Outstanding Miniseries or TV Movie in the first place? It carries much of the same cast and crew year-to-year, giving it a cohesiveness as a single show. It's essentially the same show with a different plot every season, which makes it more like Breaking Bad than Behind the Candlebra, 2013's winners. The first season of True Detective, on the other hand, is a one-off. Creator Nic Pizzolatto has said that McConaughey and Harrelson will not be back for season two, nor will director Cary Joji Fukunaga. There may be stylistic similarities from Pizzolatto's showrunning, but without the cast and director, it will be a different show. The first season totally satisfies Landgraf's definition of a miniseries, in that once it was over, it was over.

There have been other examples of shows that should have been categorized as series sneaking into the miniseries or movie category, most notably Downton Abbey, which won Outstanding Miniseries or Movie in 2011 for its first season, even though its second season was filming at the time. It was nominated for Outstanding Drama Series the following year but lost. Maggie Smith has won Outstanding Supporting Actress in both categories in successive years. As we know, Downton Abbey is in no way a miniseries. 

What should happen is that the nomination process becomes totally separated from the shows themselves. Shows should get categorized and nominated based on their own merits by the Television Academy or by a panel of TV journalists, the way sports MVPs are selected. Assign a writer an allotment of points, and the five shows and performances that receive the most points are the nominees. These are the people who are knowledgeable and impartial enough to determine a given show's genre, whether it's a series or a miniseries or a comedy or drama. After this nomination process, the shows go to an industry-wide vote. But as long as each network pays the Television Academy for consideration, which is the way it happens now, reform is just a dream.

image via FX.


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