How ‘Abbott Elementary’ Can Repair the Emmys’ Relationship with Broadcast Networks

Ten years ago, half of the Emmys’ Outstanding Comedy Series line-up was composed of contenders from broadcast networks – NBC’s 30 Rock, CBS’ The Big Bang Theory, and ABC’s Modern Family (which would go on to win the category). Meanwhile, Netflix, Prime Video, HBO Max, Hulu, and Apple TV+ didn’t even exist yet. Flash forward to 2022, and there’s only one contender from a broadcast network in this year’s Outstanding Comedy Series line-up – ABC’s Abbott Elementary – and out of eight nominees, no less! (Meanwhile, there isn’t even one contender from a broadcast network in the Outstanding Drama Series category).

Anyone who’s been paying attention to the Emmys for the past decade won’t be shocked by this situation – given how representation for broadcast network shows has been so obviously dwindling for quite some time now – but it’s a troubling trend nonetheless, especially since broadcast network shows essentially formed the backbone of all televised entertainment since the 1950s, and yet, they now find themselves on the outside looking in, even when they still have so much to offer – and even when the Emmys have honored them in the past.

The cast of Black-ish and This Is Us

Two of the most shocking snubs singled out when the nominations for the 74th Primetime Emmy Awards were announced last Tuesday were the omissions of This Is Us and Black-ish in Outstanding Drama Series and Outstanding Comedy Series, respectively. Both shows had been nominated in their appropriate categories four times a piece, and they were coming off of highly acclaimed final seasons (This Is Us even earned a perfect 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, with a 9.15/10 average rating). So what gives?

Sure, maybe we couldn’t have expected This Is Us to challenge even bigger critics’ faves like Succession or Severance – or a pop culture phenomenon like Squid Game or Stranger Things – but it couldn’t edge out Euphoria’s uneven second season (which, despite receiving record-breaking ratings for HBO, earned wildly mixed reviews over the course of its run)?  And as for Black-ish, how didn’t it have the strength to overtake the much less buzzed about What We Do in the Shadows (which aired early in the Emmys eligibility period, from September to October 2021) or Curb Your Enthusiasm (which generated very little chatter in its eleventh season, with some even saying the show was past its prime)?

While some hold out hope that new broadcast network shows can break into the Outstanding Drama or Comedy Series line-ups every year (this year, CBS’ hit new comedy Ghosts – boasting a 91% on Rotten Tomatoes with a 7.4/10 average rating and a 72 on Metacritic – was a fave for many), what does it say for their chances if voters are even sticking their noses up at broadcast network shows they formerly honored? Is the tide beginning to turn against broadcast network contenders for good?

The cast of CBS' Ghosts

Just when all hope seems lost, ABC’s Abbott Elementary exists as perhaps the last stand for all broadcast network fare at the Emmys, and not just because it’s the only broadcast network nominee this year, but because it can win major awards, too. The success of Abbott Elementary has been nothing short of staggering, to say the least. After first premiering its pilot in December 2021, the show slowly but surely gained a formidable following online as it continued to air the rest of its first season’s episodes throughout spring 2022, benefitting immensely from the Black community’s embrace of the show on social media and the natural word-of-mouth that they initiated, which proceeded to spread like a wildfire.

And Abbott wasn’t only successful because it was a sharply written sitcom, but because it simultaneously offered refreshing representation in this sitcom space and spoke to social issues intelligently, with sly commentary on underfunded inner city schools and the negligent administrations who oversee them. Besides being a blast to watch – especially thanks to its exceptional ensemble cast – Abbott had brains too, and that was something mainstream crowds and critics picked up on.

Nominated for six Primetime Emmy Awards this year – Outstanding Comedy Series, Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series (for Quinta Brunson), Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series (for Tyler James Williams), Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series (for Janelle James and Sheryl Lee Ralph), and Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series – Abbott remains a real threat to win several of these categories, including Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series and Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series (to honor Brunson directly for her work steering this ship). Plus, some – including yours truly – even think it’s a dark horse to win the top prize, too.

The cast of Abbott Elementary

However, an Emmy win anywhere for Abbott Elementary would have an astronomical impact not just for this show specifically, but for all broadcast network shows hoping to break in at the Emmys and prove that streaming hasn’t taken over the television space completely. Abbott has the best chance any broadcast network show has had in years to convince the Television Academy to not give up on them entirely, especially after they already demonstrated their ambivalence even towards former faves this year alone. And if Abbott really can topple formidable foes Ted Lasso, Hacks, and Barry in Outstanding Comedy Series as well, that will be the cherry on top – a victory that gives broadcast networks one final voice in this fight.

Written by
Though Zoë Rose Bryant has only worked in film criticism for a little under three years - turning a collegiate passion into a full-time career by writing for outlets such as Next Best Picture and Awards Watch - her captivation with cinema has been a lifelong fascination, appreciating film in all its varying forms, from horror movies to heartfelt romantic comedies and everything in between. Born and raised in Omaha, Nebraska, she made the move to Los Angeles in 2021 after graduating college and now spends her days keeping tabs on all things pop culture and attempting to attend every screening under the sun. As a trans critic, she also seeks to champion underrepresented voices in the LGBTQ+ community in film criticism and offer original insight on how gender and sexuality are explored in modern entertainment. You can find Zoë on Twitter, Instagram, and Letterboxd at @ZoeRoseBryant.

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