Telemundo Launching First-Ever Emmy Campaign (Exclusive)

Kate Del Castillo Headshot 2011

Kate Del Castillo

La Reina del Sur (“Queen of the South”) and its star Kate del Castillo are at the center of the Spanish language network’s campaign.

After racking up the highest ratings in Telemundo history with its most recent telenovela, the Spanish language network is launching its first Emmy campaign for La Reina del Sur (“Queen of the South”) and its star Kate del Castillo.

While Emmy campaigning is routine for hit shows on English-language networks, it is rare for a primarily Spanish-language show to pursue awards for outstanding drama series and outstanding lead actress. To date, according to Telemundo, no Spanish-language show has won an Emmy in any of the major categories.

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter to announce the campaign, Telemundo president Don Browne says he believes that both the growth of the Hispanic population in the U.S. and the quality of this production deserve recognition.

“We think we are going to make history here,” Browne says. “We are going to fight to win, but even if we don’t, we’re plowing the ground for the next person or show to do it. This is important to our industry and to our country.”

Hispanics now make up more than 16% of the U.S. population and watch more TV on average than other Americans. Spanish-language networks now routinely generate more viewers than the English-language broadcasters, and Telemundo believes there is increasing cross-over viewing by English-speakers who use the SAP soundtrack for English language viewing.

“There is a profound change in our business,” says Browne. “Hispanics are changing the landscape of television as we know it.”

Telemundo, which is owned by Comcast’s NBC Universal, plans to make episodes of the show available on the TV Academy’s website (for members with a password to access) in a dubbed version. It is also launching a mailing of dubbed episodes to Academy members, as well as running “For Your Consideration” English-language trade advertising.

If La Reina del Sur or del Castillo get nominated or win, it would certainly change the landscape of the primetime Emmys. There are no special rules or categories to accommodate Spanish-language programming, so it will be judged against the very best of American television.

On rare occasions in the past Univision has entered shows and performances in the primetime Emmys, according to TV Academy historian John Leverence. However, no Spanish-language show and no actor from a primarily Spanish language production has ever been nominated or won a primetime Emmy.

For the most part, says Leverence, those shows enter the International Emmy Awards, which are put on by the International Academy of Television Arts & Sciences in New York.

In La Reina del Sur, based on a best-selling novel by Arturo Perez Reverte, del Castillo plays an innocent Mexican girl who because of her boyfriend inadvertently becomes a major drug trafficker. It was shot in high definition in Morocco, Mexico, Spain and Colombia, where the actual drug wars have taken place. Other castmembers include Spanish-language actors Ivan Sanchez, Cristina Urgel, and Alberto Jimenez.

Del Castillo is best known to Americans as a Mexican crime boss in the Showtime series Weeds. She also appeared in the film Under the Same Moon, released by Fox Searchlight, andmade her crossover debut on U..S. television in the 2002 PBS series  American Family with Edward James Olmos.

La Reina del Surairs on Telemundo five nights a week at 10 p.m. and, according to the network, has ranked No. 1, often beating both English and Spanish language networks. Telemundo, which is the No. 2 most-watched Spanish-language broadcaster behind Univisoin, reports it had an audience of more than 8.1 million viewers during its premiere week (Feb. 28-March 4).

There are 63 episodes shot to date, and three weeks ago it began airing on Televisa in Mexico as well. The season on Telemundo ends next week. Telemundo will also syndicate it to more than 100 other countries around the world.

Browne, who recently announced he will retire next month after six years at the network, says that when he initially took the job he went to his bosses at NBC Universal and told them that to compete with top-rated Univision, Telemundo needed to create its own high-quality original content. Although each episode is made for about $200,000—a fraction of the $2 million a U.S. network typically spends on a one-hour primetime drama—Browne is convinced the quality is just as good.

“We’ve created a cost structure that allows us to produce these shows with very high quality production values and acting,” he says. “That’s what we call our ‘secret sauce.’”

Above all he believes the performance by del Castillo deserves special recognition. “Her performance is as good as I’ve ever seen in my career and I’ve been around for quite a while.”