Last Year’s Winner: “USS Callister (Black Mirror)”
Still Eligible: “USS Callister”? No. “Black Mirror”? Maybe.
Hot Streak: “Black Mirror” has caused quite a stir at the TV Academy by winning two consecutive Emmys for Best TV Movie, despite the fact it’s released as an anthology series. In 2017, “Black Mirror: San Junipero” took home the trophy, while 2018 saw Netflix reverse the order of its title to “USS Callister (Black Mirror)” and win yet again. For the 2019 ceremony, the TV Academy instituted a new rule requiring TV movies to be at least 75 minutes in length to qualify (which would have eliminated “San Junipero,” though not “USS Callister.”)
Fun Fact: HBO has the most wins in this category by far. The premium cable heavy has racked up 21 Emmys for Best TV Movie, and the next highest competitor is NBC with nine. (Notably, NBC has only had one nominee since 1995 — “Dolly Parton’s Christmas of Many Colors: Circle of Love” — so the broadcast network won’t be a major threat to HBO’s mantle for the foreseeable future.)
Notable Ineligible Series: “Black Mirror: Bandersnatch”(well, it should be anyway)
At the bottom of this page are IndieWire TV Critic Ben Travers’ predictions for Outstanding TV Movie (listed in alphabetical order). This article will be updated throughout the season, so make sure to keep checking IndieWire for all the latest buzz from the 2019 race, and read predictions in the rest of the categories, as well. The Creative Arts Emmy Awards will be given out Saturday, September 14 and Sunday, September 15. The 71st Annual Primetime Emmy Awards will take place at the Microsoft Theater in downtown Los Angeles, CA, on Sunday, September 22. Fox is broadcasting the ceremony.
The State of the Race
Well, it’s all about “Black Mirror” now isn’t it? Whether or not the latest entry in Charlie Brooker’s anthology series qualifies for this year’s Emmys, submits as a TV Movie, and woos voters once more will drastically affect the other nominees. It’s a two-time defending champion, after all, so let’s lay out the case:
Per the qualifying timeline (June 1, 2018 – May 31, 2019), the only “Black Mirror” episode that can be submitted this year (barring a surprise release) is the interactive experience, “Bandersnatch.” Labeled a movie on the service and listed separately from the other “Black Mirror” episodes, “Bandersnatch” could conceivably tick all the eligibility requirements: It tells a standalone story (as much as the other episodes, at least) with a beginning, middle, and an end. Moreover, the runtime meets the new 75-minute threshold — it’s 90 minutes* long.
So what’s the hold-up? Well, it depends on how you interpret the official Emmy rules. First and foremost, that asterisk (*) above is there because even though the official runtime is listed as 90 minutes, that’s actually just the average runtime. Because of the episode’s choose-your-adventure storytelling, which prompts viewers to make decisions for the characters as they watch, the runtime can be anywhere from over two hours to just 40 minutes. How would the TV Academy decide which version qualifies, and could they even allow one cut to speak for a series everyone has already interpreted differently? Voters who already “watched” will have a preconceived opinion of the series based on outside elements, even if they do go back and watch the official Emmys cut.
But lets look at the language itself: Per Category 88 in the 2019 Primetime Emmy Rules and Procedures, this is what qualifies as for the TV Movie category:
- A television movie is defined as an original program, which tells a story with beginning, middle, and end, and is broadcast in one part with a minimum running time of 75 minutes.
The “original program” aspect is still nagging, but the TV Academy already overlooked the argument that a movie can’t be original if it’s tied to an ongoing anthology series. So let’s look at “broadcast in one part”: Can Netflix claim this is true? You can’t even watch “Bandersnatch” on Apple TV, Google’s Chromecast, or older smart TVs due to technical issues. Beyond that, the piece has already been broadcast in multiple parts to millions of people based on which paths are chosen.
Finally, and perhaps most crucially, there’s already a category for “Bandersnatch” — Outstanding Interactive Program, which is defined as such: “Awarded for excellence in the combined, overall interactive media execution for an existing program or series, containing programming and features that extend the program experience beyond passive viewing, often across multiple platforms.” Is “Bandersnatch” an existing program or series? Yup. Does it make the viewing experience active instead of passive? Yup? Is it offered across multiple platforms? Yup, yup, yup. “Bandersnatch” may be a groundbreaking moment for television, something that’s never been done before on such a large scale, but the Emmys are already prepared to honor it. We’ll see if Netflix considers the interactive category prestigious enough.
OK, OK — hasn’t this category been a bit of a disaster in recent years? Due to a lack of competitors, didn’t the TV Academy nominate bad movies with near-universal negative reviews like “Fahrenheit 451” and “Grace of Monaco” just to fill out the field? Yes and yes, but it’s getting better. TV movies are on the rise. Better films are airing first on TV, and recent years have been competitive, even surprising.
This year looks to be no different. HBO could populate the field on its own: Even though it doesn’t have a release date, the “Deadwood” movie is expected to qualify (and you better believe people will be talking about this much-anticipated revival of an Emmy-winning series). “Brexit” proved to be a timely release, and Benedict Cumberbatch is a beloved figure at the Emmys. “Native Son” earned raves out of its Sundance premiere, and looks to follow in the footsteps of last year’s indie nominee, “The Tale.” There’s also Jeffrey Wright’s well-received prison drama, “O.G.,” and the critically acclaimed “Icebox.” Even Peter Dinklage’s less-hailed “My Dinner with Hervé” could find a way to squeak into the race.
Joining Netflix’s roster is “Sense8: Together Until the End,” which is being billed as a movie to end the series. Meanwhile, Amazon has Anthony Hopkins in “King Lear,” which looks to do a bit better than the Oscar winner’s last adaptation for Starz, “The Dresser.” More contenders should become clear as we get closer to the eligibility deadline, but for now, the TV Movie category is off to a healthy — if contentious — start.
- “Deadwood: The Movie”
- “King Lear”
- “My Dinner with Hervé”
- “Native Son”
Spoilers: “Black Mirror: Bandersnatch,” “Sense8: Together Until the End”
In a Perfect World: “O.G.”, “Icebox”