Are they really that funny? 
Matthew McConaughey as Rust Cohle and Woody Harrelson as Martin Hart in True Detective.

Are they really that funny? Matthew McConaughey as Rust Cohle and Woody Harrelson as Martin Hart in True Detective.

The cable channel FX has fired a broadside at rival HBO over its decision to submit the critically acclaimed drama True Detective as a drama series at the Emmys.

Because of ambiguity in the official definitions, some programs could be submitted either as a drama series or a miniseries.

FX Networks boss John Landgraf believes True Detective, with a self-contained story and cast which will change each year, is more appropriate for the latter.

"I'm going to try not to cast stones because the truth of the matter is, it's a very kind of freewheeling and ambiguous situation," he told US media this week at an industry press day in Los Angeles.

"My own personal point of view is that a miniseries is a story that ends, a series is a story that continues," he said.

FX faced a similar dilemma with its drama, American Horror Story, and elected to put it in as a miniseries. But that decision served the network advantageously, taking the show out of the more competitive series category and into one where it stood a better chance of winning.

It has made a similar line call for another new crime series which will change cast and story each year, Fargo, which stars - for its first season - Billy Bob Thornton. Fargo will launch soon in Australia on SBS.

But Landgraf believes the advantage is not in the weight of the competition, but in the kind of actors a project can attract when its is asking only for a single season commitment, rather than the seven-year contract which is typical of a US series deal.

"To tell you the truth, I think it's actually unfair for HBO to put True Detective in the drama series category because essentially you can get certain actors to do a closed-ended series," he said, citing Thornton in Fargo, and Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson in True Detective, as prime examples.

They are actors, he said, who a network could "not get to sign on for a seven-year deal".

His fear, he says, is that shows which sign top-tier film actors for a single season dominate the category, pushing aside programs which had continuous cast and story, such as Mad Men, Breaking Bad, House of Cards and Game of Thrones.

The net effect is difficult to measure clearly, but there is no doubt that the weight of McConaughey and Harrelson's presence, as well as their performance, was a big part in True Detective's success, and potentially its impact on Emmy voters.

There is no doubt that HBO's decision is a strategic one, though it is more likely they want to score a point against their rival Netflix, rather than do deliberate collateral damage to other shows such as Breaking Bad or Mad Men.

Netflix's arrival has impacted HBO's hitherto sole claim on being the home of quality TV drama, though it could be argued that many other channels such as FX (American Horror Story, Fargo), Showtime (Dexter, Homeland) and AMC (Breaking Bad, Mad Men) have been chipping away for the best part of a decade.

But Netflix's House of Cards earned nine Emmy nominations last year, including best drama, and best actor and actress respectively for Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright. It lost best drama to AMC's Breaking Bad, best actor to HBO's The Newsroom (for Jeff Daniels) and best actress to Showtime's Homeland (for Claire Danes).

This year the company is expected to mount a more aggressive campaign to ensure the baton of best drama on TV is handed from Breaking Bad to House of Cards.

That is, unless HBO's True Detective gets its hand in there first.

Landgraf also weighed into the prickly debate over whether some shows submit as comedies or dramas. This year, Showtime's US remake of the British drama Shameless switched from drama to comedy, similar to the move made by Desperate Housewives several years earlier.

Another series, Netflix's prison drama Orange is the New Black now competes as a comedy as well because it has a better chance of making the final cut of nominees. "While the show tackles real issues, it does so through its use of humour," was Netflix's weak excuse.

Landgraf's position? He doesn't get it.

"I think the definition of a comedy is it's predominantly designed to make you laugh, not make you cry," he said.

The 66th annual prime-time Emmy Awards will be held on August 25 at LA's Nokia Theatre.