The news broke yesterday evening that HBO would be submitting True Detective to this year's Emmys in the Drama category, putting it up against juggernauts like House of Cards (which had a buzzy second season) and Breaking Bad (which aired a much-discussed, if brief, final season last summer). The news came as somewhat of a surprise, since True Detective's eight-episode anthology format would seemingly suit it for the Miniseries category, where FX's similarly-pitched American Horror Story competes.
HBO hasn't made any formal statement explaining the decision, but the answer is pretty clear: no one really cares who wins Emmys in the Miniseries category. The bulk of the attention goes to the Drama Series winner, which always closes out the ceremony, and the argument could easily be made that House of Cards was emerging as the favorite for that category. After getting a slew of nods, but only directing and cinematography wins for its first season, Netflix's crown jewel of original programming took a major step up in terms of critical notices and buzz this year, and its water-cooler clout could be enough to clobber Breaking Bad, which won last year, and aired so long ago that its impact might have faded in Emmy voters' minds.
HBO has other big shows — The Newsroom, Boardwalk Empire and Game of Thrones — but the first two got snubbed for drama series last year, and the third feels like a perennial nominee that will be consistently snubbed for the big trophy because of genre bias. True Detective, though, was a real juggernaut this year in terms of critical reception, Internet buzz, and sheer star power. Matthew McConaughey will be tough to beat for Lead Actor. And the fact that within its eight episodes True Detective told a complete story that can be enjoyed by any Emmy voter can't be ignored.
Outside of taking down Netflix, which so clearly aped the HBO prestige formula in crafting House of Cards, the network has also gone seven years without a win here. Between five wins for AMC (four for Mad Men, one for Breaking Bad) and one for Showtime (Homeland in 2012), HBO hasn't collected this trophy since the last season of The Sopranos. True Detective is no guaranteed victor, but it's definitely the network's best shot at the biggest prize since Tony and company went off the air.
The one sad side effect is that the Emmys' Miniseries category, so long its dullest, least competitive section, will continue to languish in obscurity. American Horror Story will likely troll its way to victory (it lost the last two awards to Game Change and Behind the Candelabra, but the Emmys have wisely restored the TV Movie category this year) without any real competitor. It's a shame because one of the great things about True Detective's success is how it's revived interest in the complete, one-season TV story, a medium thought extinct on television, and competitive Emmy attention could help that model grow even more. On the upside, True Detective probably would have been an unstoppable juggernaut if relegated to the Miniseries category. Instead, we have a real brawl on our hands, which will make for a much more exciting Emmy season.