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'True Detective' Emmys Loss: Why the TV Academy Got It Wrong (and HBO Had It Right)

Photo of Ben Travers By Ben Travers | Indiewire August 25, 2014 at 11:43PM

Even though it should have, "True Detective" didn't win the top prize at the 66th Annual Primetime Emmys. Should HBO have submitted it as a miniseries? Absolutely not.
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True Detective
HBO

If time is indeed a flat circle, then we will all be trapped in a world where Rust Cohle, Marty Hart and the revolutionary first season of "True Detective" never won the Outstanding Drama Series Emmy award. We will be forced to face the loss again and again for the rest of our miserable, mistaken days on this Earth. That is the reality we're facing today, as a new day dawns but the dark is most definitely winning. 

Fans of "True Detective" undoubtedly already know this: The Television Academy got it wrong Monday night when they awarded their top honor to a show that's already won. Not only that, but "Breaking Bad" had already been honored for its final season, even before the 2014 ceremony began -- it won the year prior for the first half of its last "season." "True Detective" doesn't have the luxury of a do-over. They can't be honored down the line to make up for a missed opportunity when it really counted. As a self-contained story, Season 1 will live forever as a stand alone entity.

So is that how HBO should have sold it? A stand-alone entity? Much was made over network president Michael Lombardo's decision to run "True Detective" in the drama series categories rather than as a miniseries, for which it qualified and could have easily swept ("Fargo" would have had no chance in hell next to its superior competition). The premium cable network has always coveted gold, too, making no secret of their mission to clean up at award shows in order to solidify and expand their subscription base. 

This also begs the question, "What gold is most valuable?" HBO could add to their war chest of trophies with big wins in the miniseries categories, but they'd arguably get more exposure just for competing against the big boys in the series department. Putting your name up against "Breaking Bad" and "House of Cards" is obviously better from a marketing standpoint than getting bumped down next to "Bonnie & Clyde" and "The White Queen" (and even "Fargo" and "Treme"). 

'True Detective'
'True Detective'

No, HBO didn't make a mistake. Even with the loss in Drama Series, look what they were able to accomplish without even nabbing a win in the major categories. Last year, Bryan Cranston was the odds-on favorite to win Outstanding Actor in a Drama Series. His competition was rather weak (it was Kevin Spacey's first year for "House of Cards" and Jon Hamm was coming off perhaps "Mad Men's" least respected season). Yet, when a name was announced, it wasn't for the "Breaking Bad" star -- he lost to Jeff Daniels of "The Newsroom," a show without a vocal and passionate fan base that many critics openly revile. 

Why? Daniels deserves much of the credit for turning in a performance both flamboyantly grand and carefully nuanced, but one could argue the Emmys were waiting to reward Cranston for his last eligible year on the show. After all, they had no idea McConaughmania was about to set in, and it would've been tough to imagine any show competing with the last eight episodes of AMC's most thrilling drama. Voters undoubtedly still found Cranston deserving, as he managed to out duel the recent Oscar winner for Outstanding Actor in a Drama Series.

But it was Matthew McConaughey and "True Detective" who still won -- in spirit, at least. HBO capitalized on the McConaughsance so much many (including yours truly) listed him as the odds on favorite to win at the Emmys. "Breaking Bad" be damned. It was Rust Cohle's year. Even though this turned out to be false, the attention given to "True Detective" competing in the top tier categories was far greater than had it run as a miniseries. It helped push rampant speculation about Season 2 and drive viewers to watch Season 1 on DVD and Blu-ray (released mid-Emmys campaign in early June). The way Rust and Marty dominated conversation was unprecedented for a freshman series. HBO played its strengths (McConaughey) and weaknesses (plagiarism issues) so well, it almost doesn't matter that they couldn't bring home the gold. 

While McConaughey wasn't the only reason to get caught up in the "True Detective" craze, his strong contention --  as well as Cary Fukunaga's win for Outstanding Directing -- offered a modicum of tribute to the series we'll never see again; at least, not the same way or with the same impact. Miniseries are on the rise. Actors of higher and higher regard flock to the small screen. Both of these trends existed before "True Detective" hit, but both have also been forever altered since it aired. Actors like it, every network is looking for a show like it and buzz like it was quickly and effortlessly generated. 

But they may have a hard time finding it. "True Detective" Season 1 felt like lightning in a bottle, making the wait for Season 2 unbearable and likely to end in disappointment. What Nic Pizzolatto, Cary Fukanaga, and the entire cast and crew created in their first go-round with the police drama genre was truly special. While Emmy has chosen another as the most outstanding series of last season, "True Detective" and its fans will have to be satisfied with knowing they brought the fight to a series that's proven itself untouchable. 

This article is related to: True Detective, Matthew McConaughey, Woody Harrelson, Nic Pizzolatto, HBO , Emmys, 2014 Primetime Emmy Awards, Awards