Traci Blackwell recently received a master's degree from Emerson College while still working as an executive at the CW network, where she is the programming executive of Jane the Virgin, which just won a Golden Globe for best actress. (Courtesy Photo)
Traci Blackwell is riding high.
The CW television network executive is relishing a Golden Globe win for Jane the Virgin (Best Actress Award for Gina Rodriguez)—a first for the young network—just months after Blackwell received her Emerson College master’s degree.
“It’s just an incredible story to me,” Blackwell said of her recent experiences. “It shows not just how wonderful a place Emerson is, but about God’s timing, and how everything happens when it’s supposed to happen.”
Blackwell is a vocal proponent for more shows with themes around faith on mainstream TV.
“Being a believer in this business is something I’m extremely proud of, and have become more and more comfortable being vocal about,” she said. “I think it’s super-important that these stories are out there.”
Blackwell officially received her master’s degree in Communication Studies last May after completing a directed study with Professor Richard West. She began her coursework at Emerson several years ago and was in her final semester at the College’s Los Angeles Program when she was hired as a production assistant on a Fox series after completing her Emerson internship in the marketing department of Paramount Pictures.
“That’s when life just kind of got going,” she said.
Blackwell said she had a desire to finish her degree “for many years” as she navigated the industry—in recent years overseeing successful shows, including 90210, One Tree Hill, and Supernatural.
“Each time [I thought about it], there was a road block that kept it from happening,” she said. “A couple of years ago, God put it in my heart to try again.”
Blackwell’s directed study with West culminated in a thesis paper examining feminism and how that affects women in executive positions like herself.
West said he was highly impressed with Blackwell.
“It was my privilege to work with such an ambitious and tenacious… student on a project that really makes a difference,” he said. “I have overseen several student projects in my career, but none that moved along in such an efficient and thoughtful manner.”
“Rich is one of the most knowledgeable and prolific professors I have ever met,” Blackwell said. “He is kind and incredibly patient. I will never be able to thank him enough.”
Blackwell, who is not married and has no children, used her thesis paper to take a hard look at what “being a woman in this business [means], and the ability to ‘have it all’ and not to have it all,” she said, referencing the common struggle of deciding whether to have a family. “I think it’s possible to have it all, but not at the same time… For me, for instance, work-life balance is a tricky thing.”
Blackwell’s paper delves into the history of the women’s movement and how it has impacted women’s careers, specifically for Generation X’ers and Millennials.
“As women, we need to focus less on trying to fit into what society believes it is to ‘have it all,’” Blackwell said, “and worry more about what it means to us personally. My ‘all’ is different from your ‘all.’”
“I don’t regret a single decision I made,” she added.
Blackwell works as a programming executive on several CW shows as senior vice president of current programs, including Jane the Virgin. She points out that the show has a primarily Latino cast, and is a family-oriented show based on “a Godly value… a young woman who made a vow to God and her grandmother that she was going to save herself for marriage.”
“It has faith and Godly value in the premise, which makes it special,” said Blackwell, who said she was in tears when Rodriguez won the Golden Globe.
“Gina is one of the most sweet and humble people I have ever met,” she said. “I was so happy.”
Blackwell pointed to recent mainstream TV shows, movies, and books, such as God Not Dead, Heaven is for Real, and Noah and Exodus, as examples of demand for more faith-themed programming.
“It’s time for these stories to be told because they’re incredibly inspiring,” she said. “They’re less about religion and more about faith and hope.”
She also sees diversity increasing on mainstream TV with more shows that feature people of color in leading roles, including How to Get Away with Murder and Scandal, which have “gangbuster ratings,” she said.
“Millennials… view race in a much different way than what we and our parents grew up with,” Blackwell said. “And people want to see great stories.”
At CW, Blackwell manages the creative side of TV shows on a daily basis. She also hires the writers and directors.
“When someone aspires to be a writer and you give them their first job on a TV show, you’ve literally changed their life,” she said. “It’s their dream. To give them their first shot, it’s amazing.”
Mentoring is an important part of life for Blackwell, who credits her mentors, TV executives Rose Catherine Pinkney and Debra Langford, for helping her career.
Blackwell said participating in Emerson’s Los Angeles Program was “phenomenal,” even if it took her several years to graduate.
“I would not be in this job if it were not for Emerson’s LA Program,” she said. “I’m really grateful. It’s so valuable. To see the new building on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles is just a joy.”
Blackwell also thanks Daphne Valerius, MA ’06; Barbara Rutberg ’68, associate vice president of development and alumni relations; and Joyce Andrews, formerly of the Registrar’s Office; for helping her connect with Professor West.