We all know what’s going to happen at the end of this year’s Primetime Emmy Awards. After every category but one has been handed out, Cedric the Entertainer will introduce a big star, who will read the nominees and hand the final award of the night to “The Crown” or “The Mandalorian” or “The Handmaid’s Tale” or “Lovecraft Country” or “Bridgerton” or “Pose” or “This Is Us” or “The Boys.”
Granted, we don’t know everything that’s going to happen at the end of the show — we don’t know which show will be the final winner. But if history is any indication, we know the final category will be Outstanding Drama Series.
That’s the Emmys’ prestige category, the one that always concludes the broadcast, the one where the credits begin to roll as the creators and cast of “Succession” or “Game of Thrones” or “Breaking Bad” or “Mad Men” celebrate on stage.
But should it be the final category? Are drama series really the center of the television universe? And in particular, are they really the marquee category this year, when “Succession” and “Better Call Saul” and “Killing Eve” and “Ozark” and “Stranger Things” weren’t even eligible because the pandemic delayed production on their new seasons?
On “TheWrap-Up” podcast in late July, Wrap Assistant Managing Editor Daniel Goldblatt offered a modest suggestion that hadn’t even occurred to me: Why not end this year’s Emmy show on Best Limited or Anthology Series?
He’s absolutely right.
After all, what was the most bingeworthy show of the past year? “The Queen’s Gambit,” right? What was the year’s most impressive offering from Marvel Studios, in any medium? “WandaVision,” of course. The show that brought back appointment viewing in the spring, making us watch every Sunday so that we could figure out who-the-hell-dunnit and who would survive until Episode 7? “Mare of Easttown.” The British import that bowled over the critics the way “Fleabag” did, only with drama instead of comedy? “I May Destroy You.” The searing look at the slavery era that became May’s hot-button show? “The Underground Railroad.” The limited series that was so good, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association voted it 2020’s best film, even though it was actually a five-film anthology? “Small Axe,” which found itself in such a competitive category that it couldn’t even get an Outstanding Limited or Anthology Series nomination.
And that list doesn’t include other limited series that brought nominations to Ewan McGregor (“Halston”), Hugh Grant (“The Undoing”) and Cynthia Erivo (“Genius: Aretha”).
Let’s face it: Since “Fargo” and “True Detective” came along in the mid-2010s (and, yes, “American Horror Story” before that), the limited series has been TV’s real prestige format, drawing A-list actors who wouldn’t want to commit to a continuing series but who love the idea of exploring complex stories at far greater length than they could in a standalone movie.
And when the pandemic seriously disrupted the production schedules of drama and comedy series, it created a television landscape ideal for this year’s uncommonly deep slate of limited series.
Attention, Emmy producers: The limited series is the hottest format on television these days. Remember that when you plan the show’s order.
Read more from the Down to the Wire issue here.