Flashy meets gloomy? That's the look of the miniseries or movie category this year.
The Academy of Televison Arts and Sciences Thursday nominated wildy different favorites “Behind the Candelabra" and "Top of the Lake," creating a wide spectrum filled out with other nominees "American Horror Story," "Political Animals," "The Bible" and "Phil Spector."
HBO’s Liberace biopic, "Behind the Candelabra," ignited a media storm, with buzz surrounding the performance of Michael Douglas as the Vegas legend and Matt Damon as his young lover Scott Thorson, whose memoir served as the basis of the film. And the Steven Soderbergh film dazzled in the ratings too, bringing in 2.4 million viewers in its first airing in May -- making it the most-watched HBO Film title in nearly a decade. No one doubted its chances of scoring a nomination.
Another HBO contender with less distinction -- despite its big name cast -- is "Phil Spector." The film starred Al Pacino as the polarizing record producer accused of murder with Helen Mirren as his defense attorney. The film didn't generate strong reviews -- our own Harriet Ryan, who covered Spector's murder trials, pointed out the film's discrepancies -- and garnered placid ratings, making its nomination a small victory.
A miniseries that generated much buzz for a lock in the category was Sundance Channel's "Top of the Lake." The eerie and foreboding seven-part miniseries about the disappearance of a pregnant teen was co-created and -directed by Oscar-winning director Jane Campion and garnered much critical praise, particularly for the performances of "Mad Men's" Elisabeth Moss and Holly Hunter. The network recently ran a marathon of the series to take advantage of the growing chatter surrounding it. The nomination will surely help beef up the young network's standing -- it previously had earned an Emmy nomination in 2011 for “Carlos.”
Then there was the hard-to-ignore ratings juggernaut. History channel scored mega numbers with its 10-hour "Bible" miniseries. The Easter Sunday finale brought in 11.7 million viewers. The ratings response for the show from reality kingpin Mark Burnett and wife Roma Downey underscored that there's a large audience seeking religious-themed content. And everyone seems to have taken notice, including NBC. The network, hoping to piggyback off those ratings, announced earlier this month that it had picked up the sequel to the miniseries.
And the thorny "American Horror Story" seems to have settled into the category. Much debate has brewed about how to define "American Horror Story" -- is the anthology horror drama a series or a miniseries? The academy has spoken, again placing it in the miniseries category. The 13-episode second installment received generally positive critical response. And its awards darling last year, Jessica Lange, returned at the helm, along with James Cromwell, Joseph Fiennes, Lily Rabe, Evan Peters, Zachary Quinto and Dylan McDermott. The first incarnation of FX's "American Horror Story" scored 17 nominations last year, tying "Mad Men" as the year's most-nominated program.
Another project with a vague identity was USA's "Political Animals." The network originally billed the series, from Greg Berlanti, as a miniseries, but then gave the impression they'd option more episodes if there was a hunger for it. There wasn't; the ratings were modest. Viewership for the series, whose cast included Sigourney Weaver, Ellen Burstyn and Carla Gugino, hovered around 2 million viewers. The network may have backpeddled on moving forward with more episodes, but it seems the Emmys took notice of the ones it did.
The Emmy Awards will be handed out on Sept. 22 and will air live on CBS.