Pilot season is almost to a close for 2018! In a month, networks will gather in NYC for Upfronts to announce their final renewals/cancellations, and reveal their new shows for the 2018-2019 TV season. 75% of this year’s pilots are inclusive with multiple nonwhite leads, the most in at least 7 years!
Obviously I wanted to talk about this year’s numbers after last year had 14 fewer pilots than 2016. This year there was 77 pilots to peruse, though ABC pushed one off cycle.
- ABC: 22 (13 dramas, 10 comedies)
- CBS: 18 (10 dramas, 8 comedies) (19 w/ F.B.I ordered in early 2017 straight to series)
- FOX: 11 (5 dramas, 5 comedies)
- NBC: 15 (8 dramas, 7 comedies)
- The CW: 10 pilots, (10 dramas) (2 are spin offs)
Though networks continued to buy from their vertically aligned studios with the usual genre offerings, there are some unexpected themes, firsts, and record breaking.
Woman Led and Inclusively Cast Pilots
For example, 39% of pilots were written and executive produced by women. There was an increase in women directors too! And this year’s pilots have the most inclusive casts since I’ve been counting. Most of the characters are diverse by design as opposed to casting decisions made after the fact.
After the 2014 Upfront, I wrote about how we went from one leading Black woman (Kerry Washington) to six! It was a huge deal back then, and writers penning pilots specifically with leads of color in mind is incredibly exciting now. Clearly in the time of Peak TV, the push for well-written, positive representation continues as people obviously want to see themselves reflected in their media. It’s also important that this year more than ever, the pilots are actually inclusive with multiple leads from various backgrounds as opposed to tokenism in the past.
All but The Gilded Age had some casting information at the time of this article. Only three of the 75 pilots do not have a single nonwhite lead (though I expect that to change once the shows are fully done casting). Of the 73 shows with leads of color (LOC), 75% have at least two LOC. More impressive (and truly inclusive) is the 50% of pilots this year that have casts where half or more are LOC.*
It’s definitely the highest percentage of casts where half are led by actors from a variety of nonwhite ethnic backgrounds. Remember 18 shows still only have one LOC including shows that have a majority of their cast listed.
Interestingly, all but one of the ten reboot/revival/inspired by shows have LOC.
There have been many articles about the many reboots ordered this year, where reboots include new cast members and related premise. There’s also the straight to series Murphy Brown revival, and three projects based on the movies Bad Boys, L.A Confidential and Gone, Baby, Gone.
Some reasons offered include that networks are trying to cut through a crowded landscape with nostalgia and already existing IP, or the networks are playing it safe. Or maybe no one is pitching new ideas to them as they are to streaming companies.
Even if some or all of these are true to some extent, reboots have aired since 2000. Most shows follow the same basic premise with tweaks here and there to make them feel new. Procedurals especially thrive off of the cop+non cop formula and people watch it! It’s why networks use similar formulas every year.
When shows like Hawaii Five 0, MacGyver, One Day at a Time, Will and Grace, The X-Files, just to name a handful have done or are doing incredibly well right now, why not reboot more shows? This article, for example, looks at the economics behind the shows.
All but one of the reboot/spin-off pilots either changed the ethnicity of the original character or added in nonwhite characters like in the straight to series Murphy Brown revival and the L.A Confidential. On ABC, The Greatest American Hero surrounds an Indian family. On CBS, both Magnum PI, and Cagney and Lacey have key roles rewritten.
The CW’s Roswell features a Mexican-American lead character. Charmed has two Latina and one Afro-Latina actress as the sisters.
It seems appropriate that ABC’s Get Christie Love which in 1974 starred the second ever Black woman is part of this year’s reboots. (Diahann Carroll was the first in Julia.) After all Kerry Washington in 2012 was the first woman since then (ABC’s Scandal). This year almost 60 Black women lead pilots including NBC’s Bad Boys and L.A Confidential.
I would be surprised if CBS doesn’t order another reboot. ABC and The CW each have two to order from, with FOX and NBC each having one.
Besides, all the shows could just be about retirement homes.
Family Over All
Okay so only two pilots (Cool Kids, Guess Who Died) have anything to do with retirement homes, but every year there’s a handful of shows with the same theme. Two years ago it was time travel. Last year it was the patriotic military/special ops dramas. This year, there’s not anything too out there even with two shows about clairvoyance/ghost cops.
In fact, this year has a large chunk of shows dedicated to family (biological and found) and friends. By my count, 30 of the pilots are specifically about families or friend groups who become family dealing with life’s shenanigans. Three are just about raising kids with multiple sets of parents/adults.
Surprisingly there’s only one medical drama, Bellevue on offer.
Throw in one involving magic, one on vampires, and the usual workplace comedies and you’ve got 2018’s pilots. Well including Broadcast TV’s bread and butter, of course.
Bread and Butter
That’s the 17 police procedural and 9 law enforcement related pilots. ABC had 9, CBS had 8, and the other networks had 3 each! All but one have LOC. 17 of the shows have 50%+ LOC.
While I’m incredibly excited that networks (especially CBS) ordered stories with characters of all backgrounds, inclusively led cop shows is not necessarily progressive. Representation is not revolutionary. Representation is required! Are there stories to tell about nonwhite cops and law enforcement? Yes. Is that what all of these shows are actually planning to do? Obviously the jury is out until the shows air. But police propaganda of any level goes back to Dragnet and it’s never going away.
It’s important we see ourselves in our media. It’s even more important we interrogate how we’re represented and why.
I think plenty of executive producers and writers want to write stories based on their lives and that is incredibly necessary. However, a lot of it goes back to how the TV audience (specifically the Nielsen homes) are the networks’ product to advertisers. Broadcast network ratings have dropped every year 10-15% even as the TV ad model continues to shrink. Ad sales account for just 43% of CBS’ revenue!
New Inclusive Look of TV
Going into the Upfront presentations with so many inclusively led shows is heartening, however; and I hope that this year’s percentage of shows picked up with said leads will be the highest we’ve seen yet. From there, I want the shows to actually resonate with the viewers and tell some important and entertaining stories.
In general I’m super pleased by how many shows star nonwhite ladies! Personally it’s amazing to see so many Desi people starring as leads and all the women from various backgrounds who are leading shows. It’s beyond time for TV to look more like we all do.
It’s also time for shows to be written by people who look like all of us. Especially when we know that network TV has some of the worst numbers and outcomes for inclusive writers’ rooms.
Okay swing by this link to all the pilots and their descriptions and tell me what you want to see trailers for in May!
*I expect all my numbers to fluctuate when series orders occur because casts generally shift and might change even right before the Upfront presentations occur.