Emmy Predictions 2020: Best Limited Series

Fueled by 26 nominations, HBO's "Watchmen" should run away with this category. But it's 2020. Anything can happen. [Updated July 29]
Watchmen Episode 6 Captain Metropolis Hooded Justice
Mark Hill / HBO

Throughout Emmy season, IndieWire will be evaluating the top contenders for TV’s most prestigious prize, and it all starts here. At the bottom of this page are IndieWire TV Critic Ben Travers’ predictions for Best Comedy Series. This article will be updated throughout the coming months, along with all our predictions, to reflect an up-to-the-minute state of the race. Make sure to keep checking IndieWire for the latest coverage on the 2020 Emmys, including breaking news, analysis, interviews, podcasts, FYC event coverage, reviews of all the awards contenders, and more. The Creative Arts Emmy Awards will be given out Saturday, September 12 and Sunday, September 13. The 72nd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards will take place at the Microsoft Theater in downtown Los Angeles  on Sunday, September 20. (See our awards calendar for a more detailed breakdown of important dates.) ABC is broadcasting the ceremony.

Last Year’s Winner: “Chernobyl”
Still Eligible: No.
Hot Streak: Series from HBO or FX have won this category each of the last eight years. (HBO has the slight edge, five to three, but the networks have traded off wins for the last six years — making 2020 FX’s turn to win.)
Fun Fact: Even though limited series are typically one-and-done TV seasons, four programs have been nominated three times or more. “Fargo” and “Horatio Hornblower” have been nominated three times, “American Horror Story” has four nominations, and “Prime Suspect” stands alone at the top with five — and three wins. Notably, “American Horror Story” has never won, despite kicking off TV’s modern anthology trend.
Notable Ineligible Series: “Fargo” (Season 4 has been indefinitely delayed), “The Undoing” (HBO has pushed the release date to Fall 2020), “American Crime Story” (“Impeachment” has not premiered), “True Detective” (Season 4 has not premiered), “The Alienist” (Season 2 did not premiere in time to be eligible), “The Good Lord Bird” (delayed), “Genius: Aretha” (delayed), “Big Little Lies” (Season 2 is eligible as a drama series)

The State of the Race

Amidst the chaos of Emmy nomination morning, one thing was clear: The TV Academy really loved “Watchmen.” Damon Lindelof’s remix of the landmark graphic novel received a whopping 26 nominations, which not only led all programs in 2020, but outpaced recent limited series like “Chernobyl” (18), “Big Little Lies” (16), and “American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson” (22) — all of which went on to dominate the Emmys.

Is “Watchmen” destined to do the same? Most likely. The case for its quality is almost as indisputable as the case for its significance, with many brilliant writers pointing out how the series addresses many of America’s most critical present-day problems. And if you want to break things down from a technical standpoint, “Watchmen” is primed to win a good number of trophies. HBO’s juggernaut could walk away with as many as 19 trophies; it’s competing against itself in four categories, three of which feature three “Watchmen” nominees (Directing, Editing, and Supporting Actor). A sweep may be a bit of a reach, but even nine or 10 wins would be a dominant showing and more than enough to all but ensure a victory in the last, biggest category.

But this is 2020. Nothing makes sense, and thus nothing can be relied upon. We have to consider alternate possibilities, even if any winner other than “Watchmen” would be an incredible upset (and, to be perfectly honest, somewhat upsetting). The least shocking surprise would be “Mrs. America,” the excellent, conversation-starting FX on Hulu original from writer Dahvi Walker. With 10 nominations, it’s got the second most of any limited series nominee, and many of those are in key categories like Writing, Lead Actress, and three in Supporting Actress.

Still, the only category where “Mrs. America” won’t face “Watchmen” is Outstanding Period Costumes, and its lack of a Directing nod has to be disappointing. (Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck did great work across four episodes!)  So the dark horse pick would be “Unorthodox.” Netflix mounted a rally for the surprise spring sensation and ended up with eight nominations, including a Lead Actress nod for breakout Shira Haas, as well as slots in Directing, Writing, and Casting. It, too, will have to topple “Watchmen” in all but two categories, but “Unorthodox” isn’t looking to steal all the thunder; it’s happy to be in the game. Playing with nothing to lose can have its advantages, and this limited series should already feel like a winner.

That leaves “Little Fires Everywhere” and “Unbelievable,” two would-be titans that disappointed on nominations’ day. Much has been made of the TV Academy’s multiple rejections of Reese Witherspoon (no acting nods for this, “The Morning Show,” or “Big Little Lies”), but only five nominations in all for Hulu’s star-studded period mystery doesn’t signify much momentum. Something would have to change for it be considered a threat here, and the same can be said for “Unbelievable.” Merritt Wever, typically an Emmy magnet, was snubbed for her Netflix and HBO series (this and “Run”), while Kaitlyn Dever’s rising star status wasn’t furthered by an Emmy nod. With just four nominations — and a fall 2019 release date that doesn’t exactly keep it front of mind — it’s hard to imagine “Unbelievable” making a resurgence.

Power Ranking the Nominees

1. “Watchmen” (HBO)
2. “Mrs. America” (FX on Hulu)
3. “Unorthodox” (Netflix)
4. “Little Fires Everywhere” (Hulu)
5. “Unbelievable” (Netflix)

Will Win: “Watchmen”
Could Win:
Should Win:

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