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What Will It Take for The CW to Win at the Emmys?

The bias is real

Joyce Eng

There are three certainties in life: death, taxes and The CW getting snubbed by the Emmys.

It'd be funny if it weren't true, right? Just like this tweet on Emmy nomination day in 2012 from The CW: "#Emmy nomination day! Or as we call it, Thursday."

Like its predecessors The WB and UPN, The CW is basically non-existent in the eyes of the TV Academy. Since its 2006 inception, The CW has received 16 below-the-line nominations and three wins -- two of which were last year for Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (choreography and single-camera picture editing for a comedy series). But when it comes to the major races, it's been a giant goose egg, despite some very worthy contenders like Gilmore Girls and Veronica Mars. Sure, the series categories are hard to get into, but no CW performer has ever been nominated. Adding insult to injury, The CW has had to watch cable (basic and premium) and streaming break through at an awards show that was created to celebrate broadcast TV -- cable wasn't even allowed to compete until 1987.
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What's the deal? It's not as simple as The CW being unable to crack the code. It's tried -- hard -- in recent years with innovative shows CXGF and Jane the Virgin, which have earned Golden Globes for their respective leading ladies Rachel Bloom and Gina Rodriguez. But voters need to meet it halfway.

I'm not suggesting all 22,000 members hole up or there's a secret email chain in which they collectively agree not to vote for anything CW; but the bias is real. The delightful CXGF has shades of Ally McBeal, which won comedy series in 1999. Jane the Virgin is a charming, deftly realized, Peabody-winning series; and if it aired on ABC, maybe it would've already gotten an Emmy nod for comedy series like its soul sister Ugly Betty (star America Ferrera also won an Emmy).

Rachel Bloom and Vincent Rodriguez III, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

Rachel Bloom and Vincent Rodriguez III, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

Colleen Hayes, Colleen Hayes/The CW

The unfortunate truth is that The CW is still viewed as a redheaded stepchild. It skews young; and courts hot, young stars, superheroes and all things supernatural. The network didn't even start campaigning for Emmys until 2010, and when it did, it leaned into its reputation with the Gossip Girl-inspired tagline "OMFG." (According to Deadline, it almost used "Beautiful people deserve Emmys too.") That was probably more a turn-off to stodgy voters than a turn-on.

It's not a matter of quality -- many CW shows are better written than, say, Game of Thrones' "Mother's Mercy," which won the drama writing Emmy two years ago -- but they're not deemed "important" enough. The Emmys are nothing if not snobby, and it's easy to see why teen soaps and vampires would be considered beneath them.
But wait. What about Jane and CXGF, you say? "Aren't they 'important'? They tackle a ton of vital, timely topics." They do, but they're also "light," not unlike Gilmore Girls, which toggled between submitting in comedy and drama back in the day. They're also not the traditional 30-minute comedies that the Emmys favor in the comedy categories, where both shows compete. (Ally McBeal is still the only hourlong dramedy to win comedy series.) It's similar to how comedy films have such a hard time at the Oscars. The Emmys' favorite weight class is a prestige drama. The CW has arguably not produced such fare yet; and neither of its new fall shows, Dynasty and Valor, will change that (the original Dynasty was nominated for drama series in 1982). But don't be surprised if a serious, prestige hourlong is in The CW's next phase, not only in its Emmy quest but to diversify its brand.

That's the thing: You just need that one show to break in. The CW needs a Mad Men. USA was all about "blue skies" and Monk, which won Tony Shalhoub three Emmys, until Mr. Robot helped it hack into the drama series race for the first time last year and net Rami Malek a win. Lifetime is home to trashy, campy movies, but its scintillating first season of UnREAL earned a writing nod and an acting one for Constance Zimmer last year. Hulu has been churning out original content for a couple years now, but no one thought it had any chance at the Emmys -- until this year with its zeitgeist-capturing, terrifyingly great The Handmaid's Tale. One show can change the game.

It's clear The CW thought that game changer would be Jane or CXGF -- and in theory they could still do it as long as they're on the air, especially after their Globes success -- but neither really seized the conversation the way the aforementioned shows did when they premiered. The CW needs something with that kind of urgency, excitement, that undeniable-ness.
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The good news is, it seems like the Emmys are warming up to The CW. It received five nominations last year, the most it's ever gotten in a single year. And we all know how slow the Emmys can be playing catch-up. The bad news is the field is tougher than ever, with so many Peak TV options.

The CW will make it into the top categories one day. It's going to keep knocking until that door breaks down. And who knows? Maybe it'll happen this year. (Probably not.) In any event, Rachel Bloom definitely, totally does not care about awards.
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.