Most Oscarologists are aware that half of the Best Picture winners so far this decade have been biopics or truth-based tales featuring real-life people. The titles? “The King’s Speech,” “Argo,” “12 Years a Slave,” “Spotlight” and “Green Book.”
But did you realize that Emmy’s limited series contest also has a long-held fondness for truth-based tales. Looking at the Gold Derby combined odds list, I realized that five out of the top six contenders are either biopics or accounts of an impactful real-life event. Showtime’s “Escape at Dannemora,” the front-runner for now before the Emmy nominations are announced on Tuesday, is based on a 2015 prison escape in Upstate New York (see photo above). HBO’s historical drama “Chernobyl” zeroes in on the 1986 nuclear disaster in the Soviet Union.
Netflix’s “When They See Us” is based on the 1989 Central Park jogger case when five men of color were wrongly accused of rape and assault. FX’s “Fosse/Verdon” explores the complicated relationship between two showbiz legends, Broadway and film director/choreographer Bob Fosse, and his wife, four-time Tony-winner Gwen Verdon. And Amazon Prime’s “A Very English Scandal” is about married British prime minister Jeremy Thorpe, who tries to arrange a hit on his suddenly inconvenient gay male lover.
Only HBO’s thriller “Sharp Objects” tells a fictional story about a troubled crime reporter who is investigating the murders of two young girls in her hometown.
In 1973, when the category was originally created, it was called Outstanding Drama/Comedy – Limited Episodes. The first winner was a British adaptation of the novel “Tom Brown’s Schooldays” on PBS. It was followed by the third season of “Columbo.” Meanwhile, “Upstairs, Downstairs” – the “Downton Abbey” of its time — took the trophy in 1976.
However, a 1974 CBS miniseries, “Benjamin Franklin,” whose title role was shared by five actors of varying ages playing the founding father at different stages in his life, was the first of many biopics and re-creations of historical moments to claim the prize.
Other historical winners included the mother of all such accounts, ABC’s 1977 ratings-buster “Roots,” whose portrait of slavery was based on author Alex Haley’s ancestors. Its 1979 sequel, “Roots: The Next Generations,” continued the story into the 1960s and also won the Emmy. Then there was NBC’s 1978 “Holocaust,” starring a young Meryl Streep, which focused on a composite family of German Jews and the rise of the SS up to and during World War II.
Other influential limited series champs through the years include: ABC’s 1991 “Separate But Equal,” about the desegregation case Brown v. Board of Education starring Sidney Poitier as Thurgood Marshall; HBO’s “From Earth to the Moon,” executive-produced by Tom Hanks; ABC’s “Life With Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows”; “Band of Brothers,” executive-produced by Hanks and Steven Spielberg; HBO’s 2008 “John Adams,” executive-produced by Hanks and Gary Goetzman; HBO’s 2013 Liberace biopic “Behind the Candelabra”; and FX’s 2018 “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story.”
Therefore, it should not be a shock that the truth, which is often much stranger than fiction, has a powerful pull on viewers these days. So place your bet not on a fantasy, but the real deal.
Be sure to make your Emmy predictions today so that Hollywood insiders can see how their TV shows and performers are faring in our odds. You can keep changing your predictions as often as you like until just before nominations are announced on July 16. And join in the fun debate over the 2019 Emmy taking place right now with Hollywood insiders in our television forums. Read more Gold Derby entertainment news.