'Unfair' HBO knocked for 'True Detective' Emmy bid

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FX chief John Landgraf accused HBO, Showtime and Netflix of engaging in “unfair” Emmy submission practices by stretching the definitions of popular categories to score more award-season gold.

First Landgraf told reporters at his network’s upfront presentation to advertisers in New York on Wednesday that submitting True Detective as a drama was an “unfair” move, both because of the show’s stand-alone format and because networks are able to draw outsized A-list talent like Matthew McConaughey with the promise of single-season deals. “My own personal point of view is that a miniseries is a story that ends, a series is a story that continues,” Landgraf said. “To tell you the truth, I think it’s actually unfair for HBO to put True Detective in the drama series category because essentially you can get certain actors to do a closed-ended series — a la Billy Bob Thornton in Fargo or Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson in True Detective — who you can’t get to sign on for a seven-year [regular drama series] deal.”

The Wrap reported these initial comments, then Landgraf spoke to EW by phone to elaborate. The executive called the issue a “respectful debate” with his cable rivals. “It doesn’t make sense to put actors who signed on to do one year and perform the beginning, middle, and end of a character against those who are only showing one-fifth or one-sixth of that character’s journey in a season,” he said. “Matthew McConaughey is doing work every bit as good as [FX's Americans star] Matthew Rhys, but he’ll be competing against like one-sixth of the other actor’s performance. It doesn’t strike me as particularly fair. And I can see the entire series category eventually stacked with movie actors who signed on for one series of a show.”

The debut season of True Detective told a stand-alone eight-episode story and is expected to have a second season that has a completely different story and cast. Yet, HBO submitted the show in the best drama category rather than the movie/miniseries category, presumably believing the show and its cast has a strong chance of winning the arguably more prestigious series category and the acting categories that go along with it. HBO hasn’t won the best drama series category since The Sopranos went off the air in 2007. HBO dramas Game of Thrones and Boardwalk Empire have been nominated for best drama series, but have not won.

In another creative strategic move, Showtime got out of the way of the crowded drama category, switching Shameless from its usual drama category to the comedy category this year, while Netflix raised eyebrows by deciding to submit its hour-long dramedy Orange is the New Black as a comedy. “I don’t think Shameless or Orange is the New Black belong in the comedy category,” Landgraf said. “A comedy may have dramatic elements, but its primary goal is to make you laugh and look at dark things through the prism of comedy, a drama may be very funny but its focus is telling a dramatic story. The tendency is to [vote for] the performance that moves you and it’s distinctly unfair to have the actors who have the entire dramatic range at their disposal in every episode up against actors who are primarily trying to make you laugh. We faced this with Rescue Me. I think Rescue Me was one of the five funniest shows on television at the time, but it wasn’t a comedy.”

But what should be done to rectify the situation, if anything? Landgraf noted he’s on the TV Academy board and says there isn’t a clear-cut easy solution — either networks, producers, and studios decide which category best suits each show, or the Academy would have to set up a panel that determines which category each show needs to compete in. “My opinion is that there’s a compelling interest in having apples compete with apples and oranges compete with oranges …  Am I insisting the Academy adopt this? No. Others have other arguments and may the best argument win.”

FX has previously faced criticism for entering American Horror Story as a miniseries despite the show continuing each year, a move that Landgraf has strongly defended. “That’s the definition of a miniseries,” the executive told reporters last year. “A miniseries is a show that has no continuing story elements or narrative elements between one group of episodes and another.”

Landgraf has some history with True Detective, as well. He previously said that FX was outbid by HBO to acquire the project and that the show’s creator, Nic Pizzolatto, told him he got the idea for the series from watching AHS. FX points out that its own upcoming stand-alone rural crime drama, Fargo, will compete in the miniseries category.

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