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Mildred vs. The Miniseries: Structure and Scheduling in HBO’s Mildred Pierce

Structure and Scheduling in HBO’s Mildred Pierce

March 27th, 2011

The front cover of the press kit sent to critics for HBO’s Mildred Pierce suggests that Kate Winslet is Mildred Pierce in a five-part Miniseries.

The inside cover, meanwhile, touts Academy Award winner Kate Winslet starring in a film by Todd Haynes.

None of this is ostensibly untrue. Kate Winslet is both an Academy Award winner and unquestionably the centerpiece of this project – if there’s a single scene in which she does not appear, I have no recollection of it. And this is indeed a project directed by Todd Haynes, and it will air in five parts over the course of three weeks starting this evening at 9/8c.

However, I’m admittedly quite intrigued by the notion of “miniseries” and “film” being used as synonyms. To be clear, I know it isn’t ostensibly wrong: considering that Todd Haynes directed all five parts of the miniseries, and that they were all scripted by Haynes and Jon Raymond, this is a single cohesive project which has simply been split into five parts (oddly enough airing over three weeks). And yet there’s something strange about considering this as a single project given the way it will be seen by the majority of its audience, and the way it will be covered in certain locations which cover shows on a weekly basis.

I was actually going to write about the reception of the miniseries independent of having seen it, but I felt that I should withhold that commentary until actually sitting down with all five and a half hours. And yet, watching it has created only more questions: did I watch it in the “correct” fashion by seeing it all over the course of a single evening with a brief intermission, or was it actually meant to be consumed in the episodic fashion being utilized by HBO?

And, perhaps more importantly, is it worth your time at all?

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Endangered Species: What the Emmy Merge Means for the Miniseries Form

Endangered Species: The Emmy Merge and the Miniseries Form

February 25th, 2011

It is not particularly surprising to learn that the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences is merging the Outstanding Miniseries and Outstanding Made-for-Television Movie categories at this year’s Emmy Awards.

While I am sure that many will consider this part of a larger attack on cable’s dominance in both categories in light of ongoing negotiations with the networks, the concern here seems to be largely practical. There have not been five nominations in the Outstanding Miniseries category since 2004, and in the past two years only two miniseries warranted a nomination due to the complete lack of competition in the category. While the Made-for-TV Movie has been able to pull together 5-6 nominees each year during the same period, let’s not pretend that Why I Wore Lipstick to my Masectomy deserved to be nominated alongside Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. By merging the two categories into a six-nominee pack, you will solve both the concern over quantity in Miniseries and the (lesser) concern over quality in Made-for-TV Movie.

However, ignoring practicality for a moment, is this actually logical? On the one hand, I think that award show logic has to be concerned about issues of practicality, and streamlining these awards will in some ways appease the networks who worry about Cable’s dominant presence within the Emmy Awards broadcast. However, what does it mean for a Miniseries to compete against a Made-for-TV Movie? Does the longer format of a Miniseries give it a distinct advantage over its shorter counterparts? Or does the succinctness of a Made-for-TV Movie make it more likely to resonate with voters who likely don’t have time to spend five or six hours to spend watching a true long form narrative?

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