A version of this story first appeared in the May 2 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
If The Good Wife doesn’t score top Emmy nomination this year, it won’t be for lack of trying.
Tired of being shut out of a conversation primarily focused on premium cable, CBS has opted to address the cable vs. broadcast disparity head on. The company is launching a bold awards season campaign that not only praises its own critical darling, but also attacks that cable competition — or, at least, the rules by which these series play. Included in CBS’ Emmy mailer is a page that highlights the number of episodes each of this year’s major drama contenders produce per season, noting that series like Mad Men (seven episodes), True Detective (eight) and Breaking Bad (also eight) don’t hold a briefcase to Good Wife‘s 22 hours.
“When you look at the television landscape, you realize, ‘Wow, The Good Wife does this 22 times a year,’ nearly double and in some cases triple what its competitors are producing,” CBS TV Studios president David Stapf tells The Hollywood Reporter.
Scores of critics have taken note of Good Wife‘s particularly strong fifth season, in which showrunners Robert and Michelle King killed off star Josh Charles and had Julianna Margulies‘ character open a new firm. That Charles’ character’s death managed to remain under wraps is remarkable in an age of social media spoilers, and it allowed CBS to execute a post-episode PR push featuring a widely read explanatory note from the Kings and key media interviews for Charles. The New York-shot series continues to be a top destination for guest stars, too, and made the vast majority of TV critics’ top 10 lists for the year.
It’s worth noting that the series didn’t lack for awards show attention earlier in its run. Good Wife earned a best drama series Emmy nomination for its first two seasons (losing both times to AMC’s Mad Men), and stars Margulies and Archie Panjabi took home wins in the best actress category and best supporting actress category, respectively. The accolades and critical raves made up for the show’s relatively weak viewership (Good Wife currently garners a 2.0 weekly demo rating) and proved important for a network in search of cache. But the past two years have seen the series shut out in the best drama category by an onslaught of cable newcomers including Showtime’s Homeland (2012 winner), HBO’s Game of Thrones and Netflix’s House of Cards. (The latter trio featured 12, 10 and 13 episodes, respectively.)
Adds Stapf of the apples-to-oranges comparison he believes Academy voters are being asked to make: “To maintain the kind of quality over the course of 22 episodes, and this year featuring two of the most talked-about, tweeted-about story points in recent television history, is definitely worthy of recognition — especially given that it is far more challenging to do so in the broadcast television universe.”
CBS’ move comes amid several Emmy campaign salvos. FX Networks CEO John Landgraf used his upfront platform April 9 to blast rival HBO’s decision to submit its close-ended series True Detective as a drama rather than a miniseries. “It’s unfair for HBO to get actors [Matthew McConaughey, Woody Harrelson] that you can’t normally get to do a series who would do a close-ended show and pack the category,” Landgraf said at the time, adding: “That is patently unfair to people like [The Americans’] Matthew Rhys, who signed for seven years.” Perhaps ironically, it was his network’s decision to submit its anthology series American Horror Story in the miniseries category rather than as a drama that ruffled feathers a few years earlier.