2016 Emmys FYC #1 (HBO Docs for Kids)

my depression

It’s that time again! That’s right. It’s Emmy season. And ballots for most of the major categories have been released to the public. For the next few weeks, I will be discussing and making pleas for some of the “children,” family, and youth programs from the 2015-2016 season that I believe deserve a shot an Emmy. I’ll also, of course, predict whether these programs even have a chance in the first place. 

This year, HBO submitted two programs for the “Outstanding Children’s Program” category. The first is the fourth part of the Saving My Tomorrow series, directed by multi-Emmy/DGA winner Amy Schatz. This installment discusses everything from climate change (which is definitely real) to plastic bags in the ocean to protecting wildlife habitats to more sustainable energy sources (wind, sun, for example). It features interviews from some really smart kids, and musical performances from some really talented kids (and also pros like Willie Nelson and They Might Be Giants). It’s well-made, well edited, and moves along at a pace where children watching probably wouldn’t get too restless or bored.

However, it’s the other HBO program, My Depression (The Up and Down and Up of It), that touched me more. The thirty minute animated special is based off Elizabeth Swados’ picture book My Depression, where she discusses her own personal struggle with depression. Swados was a Broadway musical composer, most known for creating the Tony nominated musical Runaways, a show that featured a mostly young cast. She was also involved in this TV project, credited for co-writing and directing the special. It’s a little strange that it’s billed as a “documentary” since it’s 100% animation and features an all star voice cast (Sigourney Weaver playing the voice of Liz). Nonetheless, whatever you call it, it’s a really profound, yet simple, look at a complicated disorder. Although maybe not originally intended, this program can act as a really great “starter” program for any young person who is curious about depression. The program features original music (composed by Dave Nelson and Swados); and the animation is clean and effective. It is submitted as a Children’s program, but it’s also submitted in the Non-Fiction Writing and Directing categories. Swados unfortunately passed away in January to cancer; a posthumous Emmy nomination would be a nice way of honoring her.

What are the chances?

HBO, of course, has become a major Emmy player. HBO received its first nomination in Children’s category in 1991, and has pretty much gotten nominated every year since then, winning more times than not. It won in 2014 for the wonderful documentary about a grief camp for children, and it also won last year for the less stellar Alan Alda Masterclass. It’d be a surprise if HBO didn’t get a nomination this year. Last year, Saving My Tomorrow didn’t receive a nomination, but this year it’s not competing against a Masterclass special. Saving My Tomorrow seems more accessible to Emmy voters than the animated program about depression. However, whether its in voice over, music, or the directing and writing categories, I’d be surprised (and disappointed) if My Depression is left out of the party.

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