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Emmy Predictions 2019: Best Documentary or Nonfiction Series

Netflix and HBO look to hold down the fort as a slew of new contenders try to storm the gates. [Final Predictions — Updated July 9]

Risé Sanders-Weir

Steve James shooting “America to Me”

Risé Sanders-Weir / Starz

Last Year’s Winner: “Wild Wild Country”
Still Eligible: No.
Hot Streak: Since Netflix earned its first nomination (and win) in the category, only Netflix original series — or series that have benefitted from streaming on its platform — have won the category. “Making a Murderer” broke through for the digital giant in 2016, earning the initial nod and win, while “Wild Wild Country” took home the title again in 2018. In between, “Planet Earth II” won for BBC America (while “Chef’s Table” and “The Keepers” were nominated as Netflix originals). The initial “Planet Earth” and its sequel both stream on Netflix (and have for some time).
Fun Fact: In the 21 years this category has been active (it was called Outstanding Nonfiction Series before this and Outstanding Informational Series before that), PBS has won in 14 of those years and has 15 trophies, thanks to two of its programs tying in 1999. There has never been a year when PBS was left out of the Best Documentary Series category.
Notable Ineligible Series: “Evil Genius,” “Blue Planet,” “Planet Earth”

At the bottom of this page are IndieWire TV Critic Ben Travers’ predictions for Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Series (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

Netflix, HBO, Showtime, PBS — a lot of the perennial players are still competing for Best Documentary Series in 2019, but there are a few less consistent — or even brand new — networks looking to get recognized as well. First and foremost is Starz, which made its first foray into docuseries in late 2018 with Steve James’ “America to Me” and the LeBron James-produced “Warriors of Liberty City.” The former earned incredible reviews and landed on a number of year-end best lists, which should help elevate it among a crowd of more high-profile entries.

…like, say, “The Case Against Adnan Syed.” That’s HBO’s big ticket series, while “Leaving Neverland” — HBO’s Sundance acquisition from director Dan Reed — and Alex Gibney’s  “The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley” are heading to the documentary special category. The former made huge waves when it debuted on the premium cable channel, earning solid reviews and causing a cultural reassessment (if not outright expulsion) of former King of Pop, Michael Jackson, but Amy Berg’s “The Case Against Adnan Syed,” was inspired by the massive hit podcast “Serial.” It could sway voters who’ve become addicted to the true crime genre.

Meanwhile, Netflix has a slew of options for consideration. “Chef’s Table” is back again, though “Our Planet” might be the streaming giant’s best bet — its ties to “Planet Earth” and big push from Netflix should help its already-good odds.

Meanwhile, PBS will be back in the race with “American Masters,” looking to add to the series’ record total of nominations. (It’s got 18 currently.) Nat Geo will try to boost its own nature doc, “Hostile Planet,” into the conversation with an eye-opening look at how animals survive in some of the world’s most difficult conditions. And then there’s Showtime with its hyped Wu-Tang Clan docuseries, “Wu-Tang Clan: Of Mics and Men.” Sacha Jenkins’ Sundance premiere earned solid reviews to go along with its enticing subjects. This one could easily break through to the masses.

Predicted Nominees:

  • “America to Me” (Starz)
  • “American Masters” (PBS)
  • “Lorena” (Amazon)
  • “Making a Murderer: Part 2” (Netflix)
  • “Our Planet” (Netflix)

Spoilers: “The Case Against Adnan Syed,” “Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes,” “Chef’s Table,” “Hostile Planet,” “The Staircase,” “Wu-Tang Clan: Of Mics and Men”

In a Perfect World: “Dogs,” “Warriors of Liberty City”

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