Emmys head-scratcher: Will limited series ‘The Night Of’ and ‘The Young Pope’ have to compete as dramas?

Last year, HBO received no above-the-line Emmy Awards nominations for its limited series (“Show Me a Hero” and “True Detective”), marking the network’s third such shutout, following 1993 (“Hotel Room”) and 1994 (“Laurel Avenue”). Going into this Emmy cycle, HBO seemed primed for a major comeback with high-profile contenders in “Big Little Lies,” “The Night Of” and “The Young Pope.” However, the latter two may not be eligible as limited series as both are eyeing second seasons.

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“The Night Of” is based on the British series “Criminal Justice,” which premiered as a miniseries but was so successful that it was brought back for a second season. History is repeating itself, but with a major caveat. While “Criminal Justice” returned as an anthology series with an entirely new cast and plot, HBO is developing a second season of “The Night Of” with star John Turturro returning with top billing, as his detective character takes on a new case. Anthology series are considered limited series by the Emmys but the return of Turturro would push “The Night Of” into the drama categories, per a technical reading of the TV academy’s rulebook.

It would follow in the footsteps of ABC’s “Secrets and Lies,” which was billed as an anthology series in 2015, but was renewed with lead actress Juliette Lewis set to reprise her detective role. That first season then contended in the drama races for the Emmys, although it received no nominations.

However, the first season of Starz’s “The Missing” got away with submitting as a limited series (and was nominated for Best Movie/Limited Directing), despite having been renewed for a second season — also with a new case, but the same detective played by Tcheky Karyo — seven months before Emmy nominations.

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BBC America’s “Luther” also sneakily submitted as a miniseries in 2011 for its first season and reaped a Best Movie/Mini Actor nomination for Idris Elba, despite the second season airing in the United Kingdom during 2011 Emmy voting. Subsequent seasons contended as limited series for a different reason none produced the requisite number of episodes to qualify in the drama series races.

Of course, “The Night Of” remains yet to be renewed officially by HBO. Showrunners Steven Zaillian and Richard Price have been toying with the idea since at least July and HBO most recently said in January that they are keen to renew the series if and when Zaillian and Price are ready.

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Although announced as a drama series when HBO picked up “The Young Pope” in 2015, the project came to be viewed as a limited series by the time that it premiered in Europe in October 2016 because of the novelty of film stars Jude Law and Diane Keaton as well as the Oscar-winning writer/director Paolo Sorrentino working in television. As such, “The Young Pope” made headlines in October when its executive producers revealed their intention to shoot a second season in summer 2018.

Sorrentino had finished writing this sophomore edition by the time that the series premiered in North America in January, but HBO still billed “The Young Pope” as a “limited series” in promotions. Although the finale aired last month on HBO, the network is yet to renew the series, which is particularly unusual for them. Given the low American ratings and it being a European co-production, there is a possibility that the series continues without HBO.

Timing might be the key to “The Night Of” and “The Young Pope” contending as limited series even if they ultimately return. Sundance’s “Top of the Lake” was nominated for Best Movie or Miniseries and won Best Movie/Mini Cinematography in 2013, then it was renewed in 2014 for a second season with a new case to be solved by the same detective played by Elisabeth Moss.

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