Fans of “American Horror Story” were no doubt disappointed by the 64th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards on Sunday. Out of a whopping 17 nominations, FX’s spooky haunted-house saga took home a total of two statuettes, including an Emmy win for co-star Jessica Lange.
But perhaps a bigger point of contention than the Emmy snub itself was the fact that “American Horror Story” really isn’t a TV series at all -- or so claims the network. That the program was competing in the Outstanding Movie or Miniseries category had created a mini-controversy amid TV pundits, one that ended with a thud on Sunday night when “Horror Story” lost to “Game Change,” HBO’s political drama about how the “Sarah Palin factor” derailed John McCain’s 2008 presidential bid.
As the Los Angeles Times pointed out last week, the classification of “Horror Story” as a miniseries -- despite the fact that it was picked up for a second season -- had “some critics screaming, and not in a good way.” In fact, many critics saw the move as a thinly veiled way to keep the show from competing directly with heavy hitters in the Outstanding Drama category, including AMC’s “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad” and Showtime’s “Homeland.”
John Landgraf, FX’s president and general manager, defended “Horror Story’s” categorization at the TCA press tour in July. “We always knew that ‘American Horror Story’ was going to be a miniseries in the sense that we knew that it was a close-ended show that had no continuing story lines or characters between the 13 episodes that were produced and aired and subsequent seasons,” Landgraf said. “And, you know, that’s the definition of a miniseries.”
“Horror Story” is not alone in pushing the Emmy-category envelope this year. On the opposite end of the series-as-miniseries debate was “Downton Abbey,” PBS’s British period drama. Last year, that show won an Emmy in the Outstanding Movie or Miniseries category, but this year PBS -- wanting to compete for the brass ring against those aforementioned heavy hitters -- entered “Downton” in the Outstanding Drama category. Producers of the show said that they originally intended it to be a miniseries but expanded it in light of its overwhelming popularity.
However, “Downton’s” Emmy strategy worked no better than “Horror Story’s.” The show lost to “Homeland,” and out of 16 total nominations, it won only three. Could such snubs suggest that the TV Academy doesn’t take kindly to what might be perceived as crafty categorization? Perhaps. As Entertainment Weekly’s James Hibberd theorized on Sunday, criticism surrounding categorization could have hurt “Horror Story’s” chances of earning the top prize. “Downton Abbey’s” category change received less criticism, but then the show might just have been out of its league in the Outstanding Drama category.
Of course, category controversies are not unique to the Emmys, nor are they anything new. In 1986, the committee for the Tony Awards was forced to create stricter guidelines for its categories after revivals of two off-Broadway plays were entered into the Best Play category, which is reserved for plays receiving their first New York run. And just last year, the Golden Globe nominations raised more than a few eyebrows when “My Week With Marilyn” -- an apparent drama about a clandestine affair between Marilyn Monroe and Colin Clark -- was nominated for the Best Musical or Comedy Motion Picture category.
As for “American Horror Story,” FX has not said how it will classify the show next year. It’s worth noting, however, that Academy voters had the good sense to overlook the controversy enough to honor Jessica Lange for her widely praised performance as the show’s eerily peculiar woman next door.
Snubbing Lange for the role of her career? Now that would have been scary.