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 TV Movie (or, as it’s more formally known, Outstanding Made for Television Movie). 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 the week of Sept. 14; the 72nd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards will take place virtually 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: “Black Mirror: Bandersnatch”
Still Eligible: No.
Hot Streak: Not even the return of Seth Bullock and Al Swearengen could put a stop to “Black Mirror’s” streak. The Netflix anthology series has won three years running, first for the episode titled “San Junipero,” then for the episode titled “U.S.S. Callister,” and most recently for the interactive special titled “Bandersnatch.”
Fun Fact: While “Black Mirror” is the only program to win the category more than once, it’s not the most nominated program in the TV Movie category. That honor belong to “Sherlock,” with four nominations (in 2012, 2014, 2016, an 2017) — the BBC adaptation won once for “The Abominable Bride.”
Notable Ineligible Series: “Sherlock” (PBS has not released a new season); “Black Mirror” (the anthology series was re-categorized); “Mrs. Fletcher” (HBO is not submitting the limited series as a film, even though its total runtime is a few minutes less than “The Irishman” — it’s a series, it’s made as a series, and HBO is doing the right thing. Also, no one thought this idea merited consideration other than yours truly.)
The State of the Race
If recent history has taught us anything about the Emmy’s TV Movie category, it’s this: Don’t bet against Netflix. Champions three years running (after only snagging their first nomination in 2016), the streaming giant has dominated the TV Movie race — not only with three straight wins for its “Black Mirror” franchise, but also by snagging four of the five slots in 2020. “Black Mirror” may be ousted to the drama categories, but Netflix’s imprint remains.
And yet… “Bad Education” looms. HBO used to run this category, racking up 21 trophies in three decades, but their high-end nominees have fallen, one by one, over the last three years. “The Wizard of Lies” was the first to lose out to “Black Mirror,” before “The Tale,” “Paterno,” and “Fahrenheit 451” all fell the following year; even the long-awaited return of “Deadwood” in 2019 couldn’t stop Netflix’s interactive special, so what does “Bad Education” have that those entries didn’t?
For one, it’s not going up against “Black Mirror.” For another, now Netflix has four contenders in the same category, which could lead to vote splitting. But the real advantages Cory Finley’s excellent crime drama has two-fold: First, Hugh Jackman was able to land a nomination for Best Actor in a Limited Series or TV Movie. With so much competition there, it’s encouraging to see the actors recognize his work, and that hopefully indicates they’ve seen and appreciate the film, too. Having actors in your corner is a big boost, and Netflix’s top contender, “El Camino,” didn’t manage any acting nods, despite star Aaron Paul’s good history with voters.
The second factor was another a surprise on nominations’ day, in that Vince Gilligan’s “Breaking Bad” spinoff, “Better Call Saul,” also missed out on key acting nominations. What was expected to be a big year for the “Breaking Bad” extended universe — with “El Camino” and “Better Call Saul” both earning rave reviews — has gotten off to a slow start. Both could rally with a few key wins, but they don’t appear to be fueling each other’s success. (It’s also worth noting they each have two nominations for sound editing/mixing, so they’re very well respected by craft artists.)
But enough about those two movies. What about the rest of the field? “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Kimmy Schmidt vs. The Reverend” also has an acting nod (for Tituss Burgess), and if the TV Academy remains wowed by interactive specials (as they were with last year’s “Black Mirror” entry, “Bandersnatch”), perhaps Tina Fey and Robert Carlock’s Netflix comedy will get its first ever Emmy win as a goodbye gift. Meanwhile, “American Son” may have been met with particularly negative reviews, but Kerry Washington had a helluva year, and this could be her best shot at being honored for it. (“Little Fires Everywhere” is facing even steeper competition in the Limited Series categories.)
That leaves “Dolly Parton’s Heartstrings,” this year’s Netflix episodic anthology series that did manage to qualify one episode as a TV Movie. “These Old Bones,” the last episode in Season 1, runs a whopping 85 minutes, and even though this was also a rather poorly received series, there are a lot of Dolly fans in the TV Academy. (Her NBC special, “Christmas of Many Colors,” snagged a Best TV Movie nomination in 2017.) Could “Heartstrings” be the Netflix entry that shocks the world this year? We’ll soon find out, but, against my better judgment, I’m betting on “Bad Education.”
Power Ranking the Nominees:
1. “Bad Education” (HBO)
2. “El Camino” (Netflix)
3. “American Son” (Netflix)
4. “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” (Netflix)
5. “Dolly Parton’s Heartstrings” (Netflix)
Will Win: “Bad Education”
Could Win: “El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie”
Should Win: “Bad Education”