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Top Five Picks for 2010 Made-for-TV-Movie Emmy Nominations

Ray Richmond - May 25, 2010


So which Home Box Office original movie is going to win the Outstanding Made For Television Movie trophy at this year’s Primetime Emmy Awards? No, it’s not quite a foregone conclusion that HBO will take the prize, but since the early 1990s it’s as close to a sure thing as there is to be found anywhere in the showbiz honors cosmos.

Consider that during the 18 years when its films have been eligible for Emmy honors, the Time Warner premium cable outlet has taken home the top TV-movie statuette a remarkable 15 times – including each of the past six years. The only occasions where HBO has lost in the category over the last decade came in 2000 to ABC’s TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE and in 2003 to TNT’s DOOR TO DOOR. Otherwise, since 1993, it’s been a clean HBO sweep. That’s what you call domination, ladies and gentlemen.

When the nominations for the 62nd Annual Emmys are announced on July 8 in advance of the Aug. 29 ceremony telecast this year on NBC, these five made-for-TV movies should top the list: HBO’s TEMPLE GRANDIN and YOU DON'T KNOW JACK, the spiritually powerful AMISH GRACE, from LMN, the inspiring WHEN LOVE IS NOT ENOUGH from CBS and the sentimental CHRISTMAS IN CANAAN from Hallmark Channel.

If it hasn’t necessarily proven a banner year for the made-for-TV film genre, it hasn’t been a terrible one, either. And the stuff that’s good has been very good indeed, while the stuff that’s been bad has been singularly dreadful. Yes, we’re talking about you, ABC Family’s BEAUTY & THE BRIEFCASE (oh Hilary Duff, we feel your pain), Lifetime’s SORORITY WARS and Syfy’s MONGOLIAN DEATH WORM.

Anyway, in case you were wondering, here is the way the telefilm nomination lineup is destined to shape up this time – and why. Says who? Says us. And believe me, we absolutely know Jack, not to mention longform quality.







It isn’t every day that you see a biopic about a genuine autistic heroine. In fact, TEMPLE GRANDIN may be the first, telling the true life tale of a woman who shuns social contact and can’t read expressions but whose limitations with people proves a boon with livestock. Call it EVEN COWGIRLS GET THE BLUES. Fortunately, a film that could have gotten mired in bathos and cliché’ proves instead a triumphant testament to the human spirit thanks to a transcendent performance by Claire Danes as the Temple of the title. Just hand the woman that Emmy now and nobody gets hurt. As for the film itself, it has to be seen as a heavy favorite to take the biggest movie prize, too. This is no "Temple" of doom but a "Temple" of brilliance.





Here we have a second HBO bio that delivers the goods, the goods in this case bringing life to the topic of death. It’s all about a Jack who refused to hit the road, the one named Dr. Kevorkian, and his crusading, controversial embrace of assisted suicide for the terminally ill. It wisely doesn’t smack us with Kevorkian’s entire protracted life story but only the juiciest parts, picking the doc up in middle age and mid-combat. It inspires pitch-perfect work from Al Pacino in the lead (hello, Emmy), and the extended cast is equally star-studded with Susan Sarandon, John Goodman and Brenda Vaccaro. If YOU DON'T KNOW JACK is a bit partisan in its depiction of the right-to-die debate, it’s also a thought-provoking journey to the heart of the euthanasia issue.



AMISH GRACE (Lifetime Movie Network)


What makes this film a top Emmy pick is its sensitively wrought examination of a culture too often mischaracterized and misunderstood. Based on the true story of a gunman who on Oct. 6, 2006, went on a rampage through a one-room schoolhouse in the heart of Pennsylvania’s Amish country – killing five innocent young girls and injuring five others before taking his own life – AMISH GRACE doesn’t linger over the unspeakable crime itself. It’s most interested instead in the aftermath and the equally shocking notion of unconditional forgiveness from the Amish themselves. Here is a movie that’s about something powerful and galvanizing: coming to terms with a senseless crime not with eyes for vengeance but with hearts of compassion. With poignant performances by Kimberly Williams-Paisley and Emmy winner Tammy Blanchard (LIFE WITH JUDY GARLAND: ME AND MY SHADOWS), this film truly impresses.






OK, so if love isn’t enough, then what is? Let’s just hope the answer doesn’t involve alcohol. Actually, in this long-delayed companion film to the 1989 made-for-TV classic MY NAME IS BILL W., Hallmark peers at the other side of the dawn of Alcoholics Anonymous. That would be the journey taken by founder Bill Wilson’s wife, Lois (portrayed here by Oscar nominee Winona Ryder) in launching Al-Anon, her own fellowship of the recovering alcoholic’s loved ones. Barry Pepper portrays Wilson with soul and sensitivity, and Ryder makes the most of her doe-eyed gaze. The issues addressed run deep, clear to the heart of human recovery and absolution. That’s far more than we generally get in network prime time these days.






Not just any run-of-the-mill yuletide movie, this one is based, no less, on a book co-written by Kenny Rogers, who looks an awful lot like Santa Claus when you think about it. The flick is set in 1960s Texas and stars country crooner Billy Ray Cyrus (best known these days as Miley’s pop) as the father of an ignorant white farm boy who regularly clashes with an African American kid. Over one special Christmas, the guys will form an improbable bond that transcends race, thanks to their mutual interest in a wounded puppy. And if Christmas is about anything, it’s wounded puppies. If CHRISTMAS IN CANAAN sounds a mite clichéd, it also surmounts its shortcomings by addressing racism inside a holiday movie whose genre rarely touches anything weightier than North Pole perils and misanthropic misers.



As for the Outstanding Miniseries category… And the winner is: THE PACIFIC, HBO’s 10-part, $100 million-plus World War II epic.

Ray Richmond has served as a television critic for Daily Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, the Los Angeles Daily News and the Orange County Register, all in Southern California. He is also the author of four books, including the bestselling 1997 series companion "The Simpsons: A Complete Guide to Our Favorite Family" (HarperCollins).