Last Year’s Winner: “The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling”
Still Eligible: No.
Hot Streak: Prior to the Netflix disruption, this category was a three-horse race from 2003 – 2016. During those 13 years, only HBO, History, and PBS earned victories in the category, and aside from one win each from Discovery and CBS, these were the only networks to win in the history of Best Documentary or Nonfiction Special category.
Fun Fact: One of the Big Four broadcast networks hasn’t been nominated in this category since 2011 — just two years before the TV Academy renamed Outstanding Nonfiction Series as Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Special. Prior to the shift toward including feature-length documentaries, ABC, CBS, NBC, and/or Fox had been in the running nine of the 11 years prior.
Notable Ineligible Series: Docuseries have their own category, so don’t expect the likes of “America to Me” or “Our Planet” here.
At the bottom of this page are IndieWire TV Critic Ben Travers’ predictions for Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Special (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
Perhaps the most talked about TV documentaries of the past year are two dueling docs on the same subject, but not all of the category’s Emmy contenders circle around Ja Rule and misspelling the word “fire.” Yes, Netflix’s “Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened” and Hulu’s “Fyre Fraud” should both be eligible, and the buzz around each of them — as well as the festival’s aftermath — will help them stand out against an onslaught of competition.
There are other controversial festival contenders: Most prominently, “Leaving Neverland” forever tarnished the former King of Pop, Michael Jackson, and voters who could stomach director Dan Reed’s four-hour special will likely want to make sure its honored. The premium cabler also has Alex Gibney’s “The Inventor,” which chronicled the strange habits and practices of Theranos inventor Elizabeth Holmes.
“I Am Richard Pryor” could snag a nod for Paramount Network, while HBO has “Jane Fonda in Five Acts” and “Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind,” which both earned solid reviews when they dropped on HBO in 2018. Meanwhile, “Quincy” caused quite a stir after rolling out on Netflix (and Jones did a few interviews). Hulu is betting on “Minding the Gap” after a strong run at the film awards circuit earlier this year.
Rounding out the race are the “Game of Thrones” documentary, “The Last Watch,” the look inside Gilda Radner’s life and career, “Love, Gilda,” and Jeff Bridges in “Living in Future’s Past.” Will any of it be enough to spark a fire? The race is just beginning, and there’s time for anything to spark.
- “Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened” (Netflix)
- “The Inventor: Out For Blood in Silicon Valley” (HBO)
- “Game of Thrones: The Last Watch” (HBO)
- “Leaving Neverland” (HBO)
- “Minding the Gap” (Hulu)
- “Quincy” (Netflix)
Spoilers: “Betty White: First Lady of Television,” “Fyre Fraud,” “Jane Fonda in Five Acts,” “I Am Richard Pryor,” “Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind”
In a Perfect World: “Living in the Future’s Past,” “Love, Gilda”