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2015 Upfronts’ Diverse New Shows

It’s that time of year again! ABC, CBS, CW, FOX and NBC have formally announced all the renewals and series pick-ups for the 2015-2016 television season. Here, I run through the new series pick-ups and how many of them have ethnically diverse casts and/or actors of color as leads.

(Show names link to network pages and actors’ names link to Wiki or IMDB.)

ABC

Renewed 22 | Ordered 6 dramas, 4 comedies

Shondaland’s The Catch stars Mirieille Enois as a fraud investigator who must catch her fiancé who conned her between her other cases and has three cast-members of color. There’s also Of Kings and Prophets, an epic Biblical saga featuring Maisie Richardson-Sellers, Mohammad Bakri, and Haaz Sleiman as leads.

Lastly Quantico stars Aunjanue Ellis as Quantico’s director, Bollywood actress Priyanka Chopra (as our main lead  Alex),  and  Yasmine  al- Masri (as Nimah who wears hijab!)  alongside  another  actress  and four actors. It follows the FBI recruits through training and into the future, where, wait for it… Alex is “suspected of masterminding the biggest attack on New York City since 9/11” and must † nd out who framed her. This is a perfect example of how “representation” isn’t always a good thing considering the show is  just  feeding  into American fears about sleeper terrorists.

Comedies Dr. Ken focusing on Ken Jeong as a brilliant physician and his family life, and Uncle Buck, an adaptation of the 1989 film but with an African-American family are both diverse. A third comedy, The Real O’Neals has the only character explicitly described as not straight (in the show’s main synopsis) from any of the networks.

Verdict: I think it’s pretty awesome that ABC now has four shows about families that aren’t white. The Real O’Neals on the other hand is about a white gay guy coming out, which would be fine if a.) this was the first time we’d seen this story; and b.) it wasn’t being produced by Dan Savage of all people.

Additionally, Quantico will succeed as a thriller but hopefully won’t feed into Islamophobic stereotypes—not that I’m holding my breath.

CBS

Renewed 21 | Ordered 4 dramas, 2 comedies

Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders currently stars Daniel Henney and Tyler James Williams as leads. There’s also the Rush Hour adaptation with Justin Hires and Jon Foo as leads. Lastly, Code Black led by Marcia Gay Harden highlights the struggles faced by extraordinary sta†  in a broken medical system and has Melanie Kannokada, Raza Jaffrey, Luis Guzman, and William Allen Young.

This is a huge difference from like all of the past years of CBS shows which has a ridiculously racist White Cast + Token POC problem. Limitless  follows a man coerced into using his abilities to help the FBI solve cases has this issue, but Hill Harper stars as a main lead unlike past shows where POC were relegated to the background.

Verdict: Code Black looks the most promising but I’m really surprised neither Doubt nor For Justice got orders. Both would have been really diverse shows and probably been really good. In fact, all the dramas seem off brand for this network except the Criminal Minds spin-of which just highlights how CBS is trying to skew younger.

CW

Renewed 8 | Ordered 2 dramas, 1 comedy

Superhero crossover Legends of Tomorrow had already been  shaping up to be diverse with two of the three new characters written specifically as characters of color and with a cast that keeps growing. Containment is also the first time that CW will have a show with two black leads—David Gyasi and Christina Moses—who alongside everyone else in Atlanta, must deal with a quarantine from a deadly disease.

Verdict: The CW in general has been moving toward more diverse casts and stories, so I’m actually pretty excited to see what comes next from this network, but I am completely underwhelmed by the comedy Crazy Ex-Girlfriend focusing on a woman who gives up everything after a breakup.

FOX

Renewed 10 | Ordered 4 dramas, 3 comedies

Drama Minority Report stars Meagan Good and Stark Sands as pre- cogs leads along with Wilmer Valderrama, Li Jun Li, and two others. Additionally, Lucifer (Tom Ellis), who’ll be helping the LAPD punish criminals(?!?), has Lesley-Ann Brandt, D.B. Woodisde, and Nicholas Gonzalez. Rosewood, a close-ended show about Miami’s best and most optimistic pathologist (Morris Chestnut) and his partner (Jaina Lee Ortiz) also has Gabrielle Dennis portraying Rosewood’s sister who also has a fiancée! Lastly in The Frankenstein Code, twins Mary and Otto Goodwin (Dilshad Vadsaraia, Adhir Kalyan) bring back to life a corrupt L.A. County Sheriff as a younger (Rob Kazinsky) version of himself.

Of the comedies, Bordertown, while technically diverse (one of the families is Mexican, and it is set in Mexifornia) is probably going to be super racist. Grandfathered actually looks really funny. John Stamos stars as restaurant owner Jimmy who learns he has both a son, Gerald (Josh Peckdue to his one long-term relationship with Paget Brewster’s Sara) and a granddaughter, Edie. The cast also includes Christina Milian (Edie’s mom), Kelley Jenrette (as assistant manager Annalise, also the † rst and only explicitly lesbian character as seen in the trailer), and Ravi Patel (as head chef Ken.) Lastly is Scream Queens, a horror-comedy anthology. The first season follows murders on a college campus and stars Nasim Pedrad, Keke Palmer, Niecy Nash, and Ariana Grande as four of many characters.

Verdict: All of the dramas have diverse casts and some even look like they could be successful. Lucifer looks like it could be interesting if done well. Surprisingly, I’m really interested in The Frankenstein Code considering why the twins bring Jimmy back to life and all the ethical dilemmas that come with that. As for Rosewood, it’ll be nice to have a procedural where a man of color gets to be the know-it-all crime solver.

NBC

Renewed 11 | Ordered 7 dramas, 6 comedies (and 3 TV “events”)

Blindspot with Jaimie Alexander as Jane Doe (covered in tattoos and with no memory) has Rob Brown, Audrey Esparza, Marianne Jean- Baptiste, and Ukwell Roach as supporting cast-members. Chicago Med which is the third in the Chicago universe (with Fire and PD) has Yaya DaCosta and S.Epatha Merkerson as leads. Game of Silence follows long-lost childhood friends reappearing after 25 years to deal with some dark secret and has Larenz Tate and Demetrius Grosse as leads.

Soapy medical drama Heartbreaker follows Melissa George as one of the few women in her field with Shelley Conn, D. L. Hughley, Maya Erskine, and J Louis Mills. Heroes Reborn has Masi Oka and Jimmy Jean-Louis both returning with new-comers (to the show) Kiki  Sukezane and Judi Shekoni, and Shades of Blue is  led  by  Jennifer Lopez as a FBI agent turned federal informant and includes Dayo Okeniyi and Vincent Laresca. Lastly, The Player focusing on Philip Winchester as a former military-operative-turned-security-expert drawn into a high stakes game where wealthy individuals gamble on  his ability to stop crime and also has Wesley Snipes and Damon  Gupton as the two other leads.

On the comedy side, Superstore has America Ferrara, Nichole Bloom, Colton Dunn (whose character uses a wheelchair), and Nico Santos as leads. Hot and Bothered is a behind-the-scenes drama of a telenovela is led by Eva Longoria. There’s also People are Talking, which follows two sets of neighbors (one black and one white though the white wife is portrayed by a half-Indian actress…) becoming best friends.

Verdict: NBC improved the most with their diverse casting this year in comparison to ABC’s improvements last year. The Player written by John Rogers (of Leverage fame) especially looks enjoyable. It is annoying, though, that Heartbreaker is getting press because of the soapy aspect and rather than because the main character is based upon a real person (who probably wasn’t having exploits like in Grey’s Anatomy).

Additionally, I wish Superstore had cast an actor who uses a wheel- chair in their everyday life as opposed to having an able-bodied actor portraying this character.

Overall Verdict:

Really, this year was about continuing the hot trend of comic book- based shows, more thrillers, and a new support for medical dramas alongside the usual procedurals—all of which have leads of color and/or diverse casts.

This year’s umbers could bode well for realistic and relatable representation. Surprisingly, both FOX and NBC (and kind of The CW) are starting to follow in ABC’s footsteps of purposefully diverse programming.

CBS on the other hand, has a long ways to go before it † xes its token POC problem.

It’s also unsettling that, after last year where ten shows had either regular or recurring LGBTQIA+ characters, there are only four shows that we currently know of with explicitly lesbian or gay characters (The Real O’Neals, Quantico, Rosewood, and Grandfathered), and there are no transgender characters to be seen. There are likely to be more shows that may have LGB or even transgender characters, but that remains to be seen.

Additionally, CBS’ Doubt starring Laverne Cox may not have  been picked up, but there are talks for it to be reshot and for some roles to be recast.

Still 29 out of 45 (64%!!!) shows is an incredible increase in ethnically diverse casts compared to last year when only 16 of 51 (31%) ordered series featured either people of color as leads or diverse casts. This increase shows how much networks (and advertisers) are beginning to understand that people who are underrepresented want to see themselves—which is good for the networks’ bottom-lines and even better for the viewers.

Of course, this doesn’t mean any of the shows will be good representation, fun to watch, or even breakthroughs like Empire. Again, Quantico and Bordertown seem like shows that honestly didn’t need to be made but more options could mean more amazing shows.

Hopefully next year, more leads (and therefore characters) who are under the LGBTQIA+ umbrella and others with marginalized identities will be cast.

Now, we just have to wait and see which shows are any good.

Seher
Written By

Seher obsesses over show ratings and usually writes about media representation issues. Otherwise, she's at work in the non-profit world using her anthropology and public health training.

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