The fall TV lineups arrived last week and at this point the networks’ unveiling of their new shows can’t cause the butterflies they once did. There are many great TV shows available on premium cable channels and through streaming services like Netflix and Hulu and, if history is any guide, it’s a safe bet that many of the series offered up at annual upfront presentations will be dead by the end of the year. That said, the shows these networks chose to produce speaks to the evolving landscape of television and whether the industry is clued into the changing times. With the call for more diversity growing louder every year, we took the opportunity to score each network on its progress by judging just how diverse their new fall line-ups actually are.
Though this is by no means scientific, we did take into account a variety of issues — the race, ethnicity and gender of actors cast compared to the race, gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation of the character they play on their respective series. We also looked at storylines — was the show predominantly focused on male storylines, female storylines, storylines of people with color — and investigated what’s happening behind the camera. How many shows are produced, written or directed by women (spoiler alert: not many) or by people of color. We’ve ranked each network on a pass/fail system (though each one of them could use more work).
When it comes to casting strong female leads, no one does it better than ABC and their new fall lineup sees the network staying that course. Piper Perabo (Covert Affairs) is heading up Notorious — a show based on the real-life relationship between famed criminal defense attorney Mark Geragos and former Larry King Live executive producer Wendy Walker. Haley Atwell’s also been given a new gig as a reckless attorney in Conviction — it’s nice to see her on our screens again after Agent Carter was shafted too soon — and Minnie Driver is back playing a mom caring for her special-needs son in Speechless. The network’s also done well in providing racially diverse storylines this season. The Shonda Rhimes-produced drama Still Star-Crossed re-imagines the ending to that famous Shakespeare tragedy Romeo & Juliet by following the lives of the Capulets and Montagues after the lovers’ story ends. Based off the 1989 John Candy film of the same name, the new comedy series Uncle Buck features Mike Epps as a charismatic hustler turned nanny and the new drama, Designated Survivor, is bringing Maggie Q (Divergent) and Kal Penn (the Harold & Kumar films) to the small screen as two people caught in the aftermath of terrorist attack on Washington, D.C.
The real problem with most of ABC’s line-up comes in the form of its leads. Yes, there are plenty of shows centered on compelling female characters, but when all of those characters are played by white women, there’s a problem. Scandal, How To Get Away With Murder and Quantico notwithstanding, ABC needs to do a better job of handing the reigns over to women of color. The network also needs to do better when it comes to giving women power behind the scenes. Still Star-Crossed is the only show brought to us solely by a female writer (Heather Mitchell, Scandal, Grey’s Anatomy) though six shows feature female-driven story lines.
Pass. ABC is the network that has the best track record when it comes to diversity – see Black-ish, Scandal, Fresh Off the Boat and Quantico. Their new fall lineup does a good job of continuing that trend. Though I’m not too excited about the plot of Notorious, the series’ multi-ethnic cast means it gets top marks in the equal representation scoring game – as do Still Star-Crossed, Designated Survivor, and Uncle Buck.
Fox ties with ABC for having the most diverse lineup heading into fall (when it comes to new shows). A couple of remakes featuring actors representing the LGBQT community — Laverne Cox in The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Wentworth Miller in the Prison Break mini-series — and a timely, racially-charged police drama, Shots Fired, starring Sanaa Lathan are giving us cause to hope for a more inclusive TV season on the network. Props go to executive producer Dan Fogleman for creating a story about a black woman trying to become the first female pitcher with his new series Pitch and to the creators of the animated/live-action hybrid Son of Zorn for being the only show committed to the honest representation of cartoon characters. All jokes aside, there’s also the Lee Daniels-backed Star, a Lethal Weapon remake with Daman Wayans Sr., and a 24 reboot featuring Corey Hawkins (Straight Outta Compton).
The police procedural APB which features Justin Kirk (Tyrant) playing a rich white guy trying to help poor people by throwing his money around, looks to be a dark mark.
The network looks to be trying to hit different audiences with some compelling storytelling.
Giving us another look at Sterling K. Brown. Brown’s turn as Christopher Darden in Ryan Murphy’s The People vs. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story left us wanting more. In his new, inter-generational drama This Is Us, he plays a man searching for the father who abandoned him. A slow clap goes to the network for recognizing how talented an actress Abigail Spencer (Rectify) is by making her the lead in the new time-travel series Timeless. (I also appreciated that the trailer for this series featured Hurt Locker star Malcolm Barrett talking about how, as a black man, traveling back in time probably isn’t a good idea.) Finally, it’s good to see Kristen Bell getting a chance place to stretch her comedic legs now that House of Lies is done.
The premise of This Is Us centers on how different people from different walks of life can be connected. At NBC, the word “different” might not mean what we think it means. Brown aside, this show features mainly white actors dealing with dramatic personal issues. The trailer’s garnered 17 million views over just three days so there’s definitely something that appeals to viewers – but if you’re not representing a multitude of communities (racial, ethnic, gender-identifying, etc.) then what’s the point of focusing on these human-interest stories to begin with? And, yet again, it’s only men backing these new series. We’re starting to see a trend here.