While it's not unusual for an HBO movie to sweep the Emmy nominations, the Steven Soderbergh-directed Liberace biopic "Behind the Candelabra" dominated Thursday morning's announcements to an unusual degree.
So how did "Candelabra" do it? Which of the television academy's hot buttons did the period piece press? Here are the biggies:
A Celebrated Film Director
When handing out awards for the best in television, there is nothing academy members like more than celebrating film people. The old — and quickly fading — show biz hierarchy of film above TV still has a grip on the insecurities of Emmy voters, leading them to favor movie folk who in olden times would have been seen as slumming in the small-screen medium. When that director is the Oscar-winning Steven Soderbergh — one of the most highly regarded filmmakers working today — that need to welcome him to television goes double.
Celebrated Movie Stars
Look at the nominations, and you'll find one thing: a huge number of honored TV stars were in fact movie stars first. Kevin Spacey, Jeff Daniels, Al Pacino, Maggie Smith, Peter Dinklage, and Jane Fonda all got their certificates today. Given that, it's no surprise that massively talented movie stars such as Michael Douglas and Matt Damon should find plenty of Emmys love.
A Hollywood Story
There's no subject Hollywood likes more than Hollywood. This year no fewer than three fact-based Hollywood biopics ("Candelabra," "Phil Spector," and "The Girl") grabbed nominations. A tale of Liberace — one of the entertainment world's all-time most unforgettable characters — is catnip for the showbiz denizens who vote on the Emmys.
[ Related: Snubs and surprises from 2013 Emmy nominations ]
As shown in recent years by the Emmys success of shows such as "Breaking Bad," "Mad Men," and Homeland," the academy loves dark shows that challenge conventional notions of good and bad, proper and improper. With its make-out scenes between Michael Douglas and Matt Damon and an intimate look at a long-term, same-sex relationship, "Candelabra" raised enough eyebrows to capture transgressive critical buzz.
Academy voters love taking a trip to another time. "Mad Men," "Downton Abbey," and "Boardwalk Empire" presented travelogues to lost eras. "Candelabra's" lush art direction beautifully re-created what was perhaps the most flamboyant corner of the gaudiest period in American history. The costumes, sets, hair, and makeup were so jaw-droppingly delightful, one could watch "Candelabra" with the sound off and be entertained.
While not every HBO movie grabs nominations like they're Halloween candy, many of them definitely do. Would "Candelabra" have been noticed if it had debuted on A&E? A movie this fun, probably. But debuting on HBO guarantees a very close look by Emmy voters.
Don't Forget to Have Fun
While it might have pushed boundaries, "Candelabra" was no homework. Touching, funny, intimate, and insightful, the film was like cotton candy to watch even as it created a very real drama. And with a musical finale no less! What's not to enjoy?