What the Limited Series Casting Emmy Says About the State of TV Today

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Over the last few years, television has proven time and time again that it is no longer second fiddle to film in artistic achievement; and nowhere does that fact demonstrate itself more than in the Emmy Award for Outstanding Casting for a Limited Series, Movie, or Special. These casting directors prove that big names—Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, Cuba Gooding Jr., Frances McDormand, Julianne Moore, Kate Winslet—are interested in the small as well as the silver screen. The cultural importance of the high-budget limited series in legitimizing TV’s creative chops is largely because of their all-star casts, which are the result of the efforts of skillful casting directors who help create that magic for TV.

The history of the Emmy Award for Outstanding Casting for a Limited Series, Movie, or Special demonstrates a preference within this genre for premium channels, with FX and HBO trading off the honors for the last six years. Since the award’s inception in 1989, HBO has almost single-handedly dominated the category, and the last traditional network TV program to win was PBS in 2009 with “Little Dorrit.”

In addition, many of the winners in this category, like last year’s “Big Little Lies,” go on to take the big Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Limited Series; in fact, as evidenced below, this has been true the last five years in a row. A bevy of acting Emmys often result as well for these limited series’ perfectly cast actors. At the last three ceremonies, three out of four limited series or TV movie acting categories have gone to actors from the Outstanding Limited Series winner.

READ: Everything You’d Ever Need to Know About the Emmy Awards

This year, the premium channel stalwart HBO is absent from the category, making room for its main competitor FX’s 18-time Emmy-nominated program “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story,” but also the first bulk of nominations for streaming networks in the category. Netflix and Hulu both have programs nominated: Netflix for its western “Godless” and Hulu for its drama “The Looming Tower,” both of which boast veteran star and double nominee Jeff Daniels in their casts. Without HBO’s large budgets and all-star casts looming over it, network TV also has a chance at the award, with NBC’s “Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert”—although perhaps “Patrick Melrose,” from popular cable channel Showtime, will take home this year’s award.

Check out the list of past winners and nominees below. And don’t forget to tune in Sept. 17 for the 70th annual Primetime Emmy Awards to see who wins!

“Big Little Lies” (HBO); David Rubin
Year: 2017
Also nominated: “Fargo” (FX), “Feud: Bette and Joan” (FX), “The Night Of” (HBO), “The Wizard of Lies” (HBO)
Creator: David E. Kelley
Cast: Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Shailene Woodley, Alexander Skarsgård, Adam Scott, Zoë Kravitz, James Tupper, Jeffrey Nordling, Laura Dern
Other Emmys won: Outstanding Limited Series; Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie (Nicole Kidman); Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or Movie (Alexander Skarsgård); Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or Movie (Laura Dern); Outstanding Directing for a Limited Series, Movie or a Dramatic Special; Outstanding Contemporary Costumes for a Series, Limited Series, or Movie; Outstanding Music Supervision

“The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story” (FX); Jeanne McCarthy, Nicole Abellera Hallman, Courtney Bright, Nicole Daniels
Year: 2016
Also nominated: “Fargo” (FX), “Grease: Live” (FOX), “The Night Manager” (AMC), “Roots” (History)
Creators: Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski
Cast: Sterling K. Brown, Kenneth Choi, Christian Clemenson, Cuba Gooding Jr., Bruce Greenwood, Nathan Lane, Sarah Paulson, David Schwimmer, John Travolta, Courtney B. Vance
Other Emmys won: Outstanding Limited Series; Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or a Movie (Courtney B. Vance); Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or a Movie (Sarah Paulson); Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or a Movie (Sterling K. Brown); Outstanding Writing for a Limited Series, Movie or a Dramatic Special; Outstanding Hairstyling for a Limited Series or a Movie; Outstanding Single-Camera Picture Editing for a Limited Series or a Movie; Outstanding Sound Mixing for a Limited Series or Movie

“Olive Kitteridge” (HBO); Laura Rosenthal, Carolyn Pickman
Year: 2015
Also nominated: “American Crime” (ABC), “American Horror Story: Freak Show” (FX), “Bessie” (HBO), “Wolf Hall” (PBS)
Creators: Jane Anderson
Cast: Frances McDormand, Richard Jenkins, Zoe Kazan, Rosemarie DeWitt, Martha Wainwright, John Gallagher Jr., Devin Druid, Jesse Plemons, Bill Murray, Peter Mullan
Other Emmys won: Outstanding Limited Series; Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or a Movie (Richard Jenkins); Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or a Movie (Frances McDormand); Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or a Movie (Bill Murray); Outstanding Directing for a Limited Series, Movie or a Dramatic Special; Outstanding Writing for a Limited Series, Movie or a Dramatic Special; Outstanding Single-Camera Picture Editing for a Limited Series or a Movie

“Fargo” (FX); Rachel Tenner, Jackie Lind, Stephanie Gorin
Year: 2014
Also nominated: “American Horror Story: Coven” (FX), “The Normal Heart” (HBO), “Sherlock: His Last Vow” (PBS), “Treme” (HBO)
Creator: Noah Hawley
Cast: Billy Bob Thornton, Allison Tolman, Colin Hanks, Martin Freeman
Other Emmys won: Outstanding Limited Series; Outstanding Directing for a Miniseries, Movie, or Dramatic Special

“Behind the Candelabra” (HBO); Carmen Cuba
Year: 2013
Also nominated: “American Horror Story: Asylum” (FX), “The Hour” (BBC America), “Political Animals” (USA), “Top of the Lake” (Sundance)
Creator: Richard LaGravenese
Cast: Michael Douglas, Matt Damon, Dan Aykroyd, Scott Bakula, Rob Lowe, Debbie Reynolds
Other Emmys won: Outstanding Limited Series; Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie (Michael Douglas); Outstanding Directing for a Miniseries, Movie or a Dramatic Special; Outstanding Art Direction for a Miniseries or Movie; Outstanding Costumes for a Miniseries, Movie or a Special; Outstanding Hairstyling for a Miniseries or a Movie; Outstanding Makeup for a Miniseries or a Movie (Non-Prosthetic); Outstanding Sound Mixing for a Miniseries or a Movie; Outstanding Prosthetic Makeup for a Series, Miniseries, Movie or a Special; Outstanding Single-Camera Picture Editing for a Miniseries or a Movie

“Game Change” (HBO); David Rubin, Richard Hicks, Pat Moran, Kathleen Chopin
Year: 2012
Also nominated: “American Horror Story” (FX), “Five” (Lifetime), “Hatfields & McCoys” (History), “Sherlock: A Scandal in Belgravia” (PBS)
Creator: Danny Strong
Cast: Julianne Moore, Woody Harrelson, Ed Harris, Sarah Paulson
Other Emmys won: Outstanding Limited Series; Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie (Julianne Moore); Outstanding Directing for a Miniseries, Movie or a Dramatic Special; Outstanding Writing for a Miniseries, Movie or a Dramatic Special

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