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Will Gilmore Girls Finally Get an Emmy?

The Netflix revival was submitted in limited series, but was it the right way to go?

Joyce Eng

During its original seven-year run, Gilmore Girls received exactly one Emmy nomination. In 2004, it was nominated for -- and won -- non-prosthetic makeup for the episode "The Festival of Living Art." The show was never nominated for comedy series or, as it later switched to, drama series, and none of the actors were singled out, despite Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Award nominations for star Lauren Graham. Even the Emmys' short-lived, ill-fated "Lauren Graham Rule" didn't work.

When Netflix's Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life was announced, fans were ecstatic, not just for those final four words, but the chance for long overdue nominations for the show and its leading lady, even though it was an uphill battle in the always stacked drama field. Then came a plot twist in April: The TV Academy accepted Netflix's petition to classify A Year in the Life as a limited series. It was a savvy move by Netflix, but Gilmore Girls will likely come up short again in the big races.

It was presumed, based on Emmy rules, that A Year in the Life would be submitted in drama, as it was a continuation of a pre-existing ongoing series. But a panel ruled that A Year in the Life's four 90-minute installments satisfied the academy's parameters of a limited series, which is "a program with two (2) or more episodes with a total running time of at least 150 program minutes that tells a complete, non-recurring story and does not have an ongoing storyline and/or main characters in subsequent seasons." (The limited series rule was implemented in 2015 after the first season of True Detective played with the big guns in drama.)
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Another (earlier) year and Gilmore Girls' successful genre switch might be cause for greater hope and celebration. From 2011 to '13, the then-miniseries and TV movie categories were merged into one because of a dearth of the former, until a major mini resurgence led them to be reinstated in 2014. (The category name was changed from miniseries to limited series in 2015.) As fate would have it, limited series is more loaded than ever these days. A Year in the Life has to contend with the two favorites Big Little Lies and Feud: Bette and Joan, last summer's hit The Night Of, 2014 champ Fargo, two-time nominee American Crime, former nominee American Horror Story (for Roanoke this time) and the super-baity Genius.

But it's Graham, long thought of to be the show's best shot at any major nomination, who has the tougher challenge of breaking into the death match category of limited series/TV movie actress. Feud's Jessica Lange and Susan Sarandon, and Big Little Lies' Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman basically have locked up four slots. Besides Graham, that leaves two spots for, among others, Oprah Winfrey (The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks), Felicity Huffman (American Crime), Carrie Coon (Fargo) and Bryce Dallas Howard (Black Mirror), who received a SAG nod over Graham.

Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel, Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life

Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel, Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life

Saeed Adyani/Netflix

Needless to say, the show and Graham would not have an easier time in drama against the likes of The Crown, This Is Us, The Americans, Better Call Saul, The Handmaid's Tale and others. You have to credit Netflix for recognizing that in the first place. Awards are about strategy: putting yourself in the best position to maximize your chances. Before the current rule, former drama and comedy series contenders Treme and The Big C, respectively, took advantage of their shorter final seasons and switched to the less competitive miniseries race, reaping multiple nominations and a win for The Big C's Laura Linney. They played within the rules of the game and it worked.

Netflix obviously was well aware of the stiff competition and Gilmore Girls' terrible track record in the regular series races, but it also already has three dogs in the drama fight: The Crown, Stranger Things and gateway nominee House of Cards. There was no need to create even more internal competition with A Year in the Life in the mix.

It's unclear when Netflix filed its petition to shift A Year in the Life to limited series, but it's not out of the realm of possibility that it was before anyone knew what to make of Big Little Lies and Feud yet. Big Little Lies premiered Feb. 19 and picked up more buzz and acclaim, specifically for Kidman, as the season went on. Feud bowed on March 5 and followed a similar trajectory, with Lange, in particular, bringing her A game as Joan Crawford. Would Netflix have made the same move if both shows premiered, say, in September? Possibly. Or maybe it would've employed the tactic it used for another one of its shows.
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Netflix strategically punted Black Mirror to the TV movie category to ensure no internal competition for A Year in the Life in limited series. How did it manage that? By taking a page out of Sherlock's book. Sherlock has always submitted one of its 90-minute episodes every season as a standalone film for TV movie, culminating in a win last year for "The Abominable Bride" (it submitted "The Lying Detective" this year). Black Mirror's standalone structure, with a new cast and story every episode, made it a no-brainer to do the same (the fantastic "San Junipero" is submitted for TV movie).

But A Year in the Life could've followed suit as well with one of its four seasonal chapters. "Fall," with Lorelai's (Graham) tearful phone call to Emily (Kelly Bishop) at the end, is the obvious choice. The biggest advantage is that the TV movie race is typically less competitive than limited series. So while Graham's chances would've remained the same -- since the acting, writing, directing and all other categories are under a limited series/TV movie banner -- A Year in the Life would've had a better shot eking out a nod for TV movie than limited series. And if TPTB wanted a big nod to hang their hat on, that would've been the better the way to go.

But who knows? Maybe voters will see the error of their ways after all these years and make it up to Gilmore Girls and Graham, who has never been Emmy-nominated for anything. And the show could collect a handful of nods in below-the-line categories. The greatest thing it has going for it now is Netflix, which is a big-time Emmy player unlike The CW (or before it, The WB and UPN), which has been thoroughly rejected by the Emmys in the past.

Ironically, we could very well see a Gilmore Girl nominated this year -- just not Graham and not for Gilmore Girls. Alexis Bledel's astounding turn in The Handmaid's Tale episode "Late" might net her a nod for drama guest actress.

Emmy nominations are announced Thursday, July 13. The 69th Primetime Emmy Awards airs Sunday, Sept. 17 at 8 p.m. ET / 5 p.m. PT on CBS.