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FEATURE: All Eyes On’ Angels’ at Emmy Time
LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) – With a chart-topping 21 Primetime Emmy nominations, HBO’s six-hour, $64 million miniseries “Angels in America” is poised to become an Emmy juggernaut for the ages.
Prevailing wisdom has it challenging the miniseries record of nine Emmy wins for the 1977 ABC miniseries “Roots” and possibly even eclipsing the telefilm mark of 11 statuettes set in 1976 by ABC’s “Eleanor and Franklin”; that would make “Angels” the most-decorated single-year project in Emmy history.
Of course, it hasn’t won anything yet. Winners will be announced in Los Angeles on Sept. 19. But the much-acclaimed project, based on the two-part Pulitzer Prize-winning Tony Kushner play that executive producer Cary Brokaw shepherded over 14 years, appears to be the closest thing to a sure thing that the Emmys have ever offered.
“I didn’t dare hope this high,” Brokaw admits. “It may sound disingenuous, but I never thought about this number of nominations. I thought we’d get a decent amount, but this is frankly far beyond any expectations I had.”
Brokaw says that he’s particularly pleased that all eight of the project’s principal actors were nominated, putting “Angels” in position to win all four of the miniseries/movie acting categories. To date, no project has ever managed to pull that trick at the Emmys.
“It’s just really gratifying to have ‘Angels’ be so critically embraced — and then to have it be so honored by our peers in the industry in this way is a great reward after a very long journey,” Brokaw says.
While a full-scale coronation for “Angels” on Emmy night is being characterized as more or less a foregone conclusion, Brokaw is careful not to convince himself that it’s already in the bag. “You never want to presume anything,” he notes. “The fact that all of us involved in the project will be there enjoying the evening together promises to make it special whether anybody wins or not.”
Oh, really?
“Well,” Brokaw adds, chuckling, “maybe not if nobody wins.”
However, that’s not expected to be an issue. Certainly, “Angels” is the overwhelming favorite in the outstanding miniseries category, which is not to shortchange a quality field that also includes PBS’ “American Family — Journey of Dreams” and “Prime Suspect 6: The Last Witness,” A&E’s “Horatio Hornblower: Loyalty and Duty” and “Traffic: The Miniseries” from USA Network.
The other contenders seem to have realistic expectations about their chances, while retaining a glimmer of hope.
Observes “Prime Suspect 6” executive producer Rebecca Eaton: “It’s too bad we got caught up in the ‘Angels in America’ flood tide, but that’s the way it goes. We could have held our show off until fall, but that wouldn’t have been fair to the audience. And remember, there is the story of ‘David and Goliath’ — which we’ve been retelling each other on a daily basis.
“It is still certainly an honor to be in such celebrated company,” Eaton concludes. “I do have to say that this really is the best ‘Prime Suspect’ we’ve ever done. Helen Mirren is just phenomenal in it. The story line is also so strong and so of the moment.”
Ron Hutchinson, executive producer of “Traffic,” sees the Emmy nomination as a welcome honor for a project that could well have been doomed to unfavorable comparisons to the extraordinary 1989 British miniseries “Traffik” and the four-time Oscar-winning 2000 feature “Traffic.”
“Everybody loved the movie, and the original TV series had the best screenplay ever written for television,” Hutchinson says. “So, there was a belief that we were going to fall on our faces — we were like a garage band kind of show as opposed to a rock concert — but people responded favorably. The Emmy nomination is a great validation.”
Adds Jeff Wachtel, executive vp series and longform at USA: “We were careful to make quality choices at every level of this project; I have to believe that made the difference. Everything was world-class.”
This is the third consecutive incarnation of “Horatio Hornblower” to be nominated in the miniseries category for A&E (“Hornblower: The Even Chance” took home the top prize in 1999). Executive producer Delia Fine cites the historical epic’s surprising timeliness as a factor in its being cited.
“Besides being very ambitious, ‘Hornblower’ is all about a subject that’s very much on our radar now,” Fine believes, “and that is the need for loyalty and courage and the ability to make tough decisions and show moral bravery. Those themes never go out of style. They appeal to us and touch us in these troubled times.”
“American Family” has taken a decidedly winding road since premiering in 2002. What had previously been a regular weekly series returned for a second season as a 13-part miniseries after having been off the air for better than a year. The resulting effort, subtitled “Journey of Dreams,” dealt with how the war in Iraq impacted the Gonzales family.
“To me, this nomination is indicative of the fact that the TV Academy really is focusing on the quality of shows, regardless of where they happen to air,” “American Family” creator/executive producer Gregory Nava says. “We had an extraordinary year of very powerful drama, I feel. Recognition in the miniseries category is a wonderful way to honor everybody’s work.”
Meanwhile, the top telefilm category this year is a rare instance of Showtime earning as many nominations (two) as did the traditionally-dominant HBO. The Showtime entries in the category are for the controversial “The Reagans” and the faithful remake of “The Lion in Winter,” while HBO’s nominated telepics are “And Starring Pancho Villa as Himself” and “Something the Lord Made.” A&E’s “Ike: Countdown to D-Day” rounds out the category.
The seven nominations for “Reagans” — which morphed from a CBS miniseries to a Showtime biopic after the eye network dropped the film amidst pressure last year — was nothing short of a revelation to the project’s executive producers, Craig Zadan and Neil Meron.
“Vindication? Oh, my God, absolutely,” Meron confirms. “When you’re attacked mercilessly for illogical and unpatriotic reasons, to be honored by Emmy voters in this way is just phenomenal.”
Adds Zadan: “After being so completely and consistently ripped to shreds, we feel like the controversy finally died down, and we were able to be judged on our own creative merits; that’s all we’ve ever asked — to have people step outside the hoopla and look at this as simply a piece of filmmaking. Ironically, it seems that Ronald Reagan’s death might have generated renewed interest during voting. It’s nice to be honored rather than attacked.”
“Lion” is a remake of the Oscar-winning 1968 feature — this one starring Glenn Close (also nominated) and Patrick Stewart. Executive producer Robert Halmi Sr. is particularly proud that not a single line of dialogue was altered from the previous edition.
“To my knowledge, it’s the only remake in the history of movies or TV that used exactly the same words as the original,” Halmi says. “But you know, it’s a remake of a pretty good movie, which is a timeless classic. The words continue to talk to us today. I’m very proud that it was nominated, but I’m not surprised.”
Larry Gelbart, who is nominated for both writing and executive producing “Pancho Villa,” describes the film as “a beautifully crafted picture that deserves this sort of honor. It’s always nice to stand out among the endless array of choices. I credit that to having some really fine people behind the scenes.”
“Something the Lord Made” was the result of an eight-year effort by executive producer Robert W. Cort to bring the story to the screen; it had originally been developed as a feature at Paramount.
“This sort of period drama is kind of an endangered species in the feature world,” Cort says, “so thank heavens for HBO for standing out as a serious repository for dramatic work. Here is a movie without a lot of the usual trappings. It’s a story of social issues, of individual personality issues, of friendship, of betrayal, of heroism and personal sacrifice. It takes a serious look at the human dynamic and real people that’s so absent in movies today.”
Finally, there’s the biopic “Ike,” whose writer/executive producer Lionel Chetwynd is pleased that such a sober, historical overview of Dwight D. Eisenhower’s leadership skills would be singled out for Emmy honors (six noms in all).
“Here’s a film that tries to understand leadership under difficult circumstances but in a cool fashion and without political fervor,” Chetwynd says. “It’s something that TV doesn’t normally do — it isn’t ripped from the headlines; it isn’t heated rhetoric. It’s a movie that steps back and considers what was going on without prejudice. I have to believe it’s that awareness that won our film the nominations.”