Pilot season this year received multiple superlatives. Most written and executive produced by women (39%), most directed by women, and most inclusively cast pilots. We can add most inclusively led shows at 80% of shows with two or more leads of color now that the 2018 Upfront is over. And what an Upfront it was!
Interestingly, from 2014 to 2016, the number of casts with nonwhite leads increased from 31 to 73%, but last year that dropped to 61%. However, 2017 only had 74 pilots to 2016’s 88! So this year, I tracked the casting of all 77 pilots and who was cast for which show.
A total of 36 shows made the cut this year and after last year it’s clear not all of them will even make it to the regular fall to spring season. Three less than last year, it suggests that networks will continue to order less shows and mostly from their vertically vertically aligned studios studios. 6 were straight to series (plus two shows outside the regular season so I have not included them in my analysis).
Of the 33 shows that list leads of color, only five have just one person. 28 have two or more with 25 shows made up of half or more actors of color. This goes for some of the large ensemble casts too which is impressive since that doesn’t necessarily require inclusive casting as compared to a show about a specific family. Part of this 76% is because writers and executive producers created pilots with inclusive casts in mind. 13 of the picked up shows were written and produced by women!
Below, I note the networks’ series orders that are inclusively led and trends for the year. Commentary on all shows plus deep dives into the 2017-2018 season are linked in each network header.
ABC: 5 dramas, 3 comedies, 6 inclusive, 5 shows less than 2017
CBS: 5 dramas, 4 comedies, 8, 1 more
THE CW: 5 dramas, 0 comedies, 4*, 1 more
FOX: 2 dramas, 3 comedies, 3, 2 less
NBC: 5 dramas, 3 comedies, all, same
Linked shows have trailers.
After Roseanne’s success nothing about ABC’s orders is surprising especially after Entertainment President Channing Dungey Dungey confirmed at the January TCAs that ABC wanted more close-ended procedural stories and lighter, brighter, more emotional shows to match The Good Doctor. Two of three straight to series orders went to cop shows back in the fall.
At least their dramas are inclusively led!
- The Rookie stars Nathan Fillion as the titular character supported by an ensemble cast.
- A Million Little Things where a group of Boston friends start living life after they lose a friend unexpectedly.
- Grand Hotel drops the viewer into the drama behind the scenes of a super fancy hotel.
- Whiskey Cavalier follows an FBI super-agent and badass CIA operative.
- ABC also got into the legal thriller pond again with The Fix which follows an L.A. district attorney returning to the same office after eight years away to get justice.
Only Single Parents is inclusive set on four parents, well parenting their seven kids together.
Last year was a major disappointment with almost no leads of color. In response to critical questioning, entertainment president Glenn Geller stated that CBS needed to do better at least seven times. Who knows what led to their actual casting POC as leads, but every single pickup stars multiple leads of color and Kelly Kahl was able to say they came through on last year’s promise to “do better” at this year’s upfront presentation.
All their dramas have at least two or more actors of color!
- Jay Hernandez is the titular Magnum P.I also starring Stephen Hill.
- Zeeko Zaki and Ebonee Noel lead F.B.I set in the NYC office.
- The Code stars Ato Essandoh, Raffi Barsoumian, and Phillipa Soo as Marines. They are trained as prosecutors, defense lawyers, an investigators.
- The Red Line (set in the aftermath of a White cop shooting a Black doctor) has an Indian teacher alongside the Black family mourning their loved one. (Michael Patrick Thornton by the way is the only actor with a disability among all the shows that I know of!)
- God Friended Me, the only non-cop drama is also led by an inclusive cast!
Tree comedies are inclusive. The Neighborhood and Happy Together both follow Black families and the White main characters who come into their lives. Fam follows a third Black family, whose soon to be daughter in law/wife’s half sister comes to live with Nina Dobrev’s character to escape their dad.
The CW reclaimed Sundays to air original programming this year which explains their ten pilot orders. WB TV has three properties while CBS Studios has two.
- Charmed is happening! This iteration follows three Latina sisters (eldest is Afro-Latina) in a college town finding out they are witches. The middle sister is a lesbian!
- Roswell New Mexico is about the daughter of undocumented immigrants discovering her teenage crush is a police officer and also alien.
- Of the spin-offs, Legacies* follows Hope Mikaelson and others coming of age. Unclear whether it is inclusively led since no cast set yet.
- All American is the seventh (!) Berlanti Prods. on the CW. Based on Spencer Paysinger’s life, it follows a rising high school football player recruited to play for Beverly Hills High.
In the Dark is about an irreverent blind woman who must find her friend’s killer (one of three already known characters with disabilities). She is not portrayed by a blind woman and of the five shows, only has 1 listed non-White lead.
All their pilots come from 20th Century Fox which Disney gets in the merger so no way to tell what will happen if they are renewed next year.
- The Passage, a character-driven thriller has a young Black girl as the lead! (Though I am hesitant with FOX because of Sleepy Hollow.)
- Proven Innocent follows a firm that overturns convictions.
- Only Rel led by Lil Rel Howery has an inclusive cast among the three comedy orders.
NBC had so many big ratings events this year so really I’m intrigued to see what goes on without the Olympics next spring. All their dramas are inclusively led.
- New Amsterdam, the only medical pilot with Ryan Eggold as the hospital’s new medical director who has to save it from death. Anupam Kher is in it! So is Freema Agyeman.
- The Village has an ensemble cast portraying tenants in an apartment that are all involved with each other’s lives. It’s the other series this year to feature a character using a wheelchair (though not played by an actor who does the same).
- The Enemy Within follows Jessica Carpenter’s Erika, a former CIA operative, now traitor brought in to help stop a dangerous criminal.
- For mid-season, the Lost-esque ensemble Manifest where Montego Air Flight 828 landed safely after a turbulence but in those few hours, five years had passed so drama! .
- The InBetween is about a woman who can see and communicate with the dead and reluctantly starts helping a Detective and FBI Agent to solve a murder.
Of their comedies, all are inclusively led with Natalie Morales as the titular character in Abby‘s, a Cheers inspired half hour set in her backyard bar where only her rules matter and Sarayu Blue in I Feel Bad as Emet, the perfect mom, friend, boss, etc. Except not really. And of course B99.
Reboots and Cops Thrive this Upfront
Before I get into this year’s themes, I want to point out that from last year’s patriotic/special ops shows, only CBS’ received a second season. So when Roseanne‘s ratings were explosive, I was expecting networks to drop some of their more inclusive shows and stories.
It explains FOX’s last minute Last Man Standing. But even before LMS, ten reboots/remake pilots were ordered on top of CBS’ straight to series Murphy Brown revival. An eleventh, ABC’s Schooled also received a late straight to series order. Three more reboots made the cut this year, two on The CW, and one more on CBS.
Some of the reboots are the network’s bread and butter of police and legal procedurals.
Which, half the police/legal/intelligence agents pilots made it.
- ABC: Whiskey Cavalier, The Fix (legal), The Rookie, and Take Two
- CBS: Magnum PI, F.B.I, The Code, and The Red Line
- NBC: The Enemy Within (CIA), The InBetween, and B99
- FOX: Proven Innocent (legal)
- The CW: Roswell New Mexico
The combination of reboots and police/law procedurals are what the networks hope will increase their linear ratings. The so coveted 18-49 demo continues to decrease with only a handful of shows making into the top 25 broadcast programs.
Something else to note is that renewals for CBS and The CW came later than usual. While more shows than usual premiered into late April. (Olympic struggles.) Later premieres could continue as networks keep poorly performing shows on the air longer. Summer programming might also serve as a way to get younger viewers, considering the median age of viewers for all the networks were 51-61. Even the CW is close to 49+!
Inclusive Casts and Characters
It took years, but only five of 33 casts have only one non-White lead. (At least right now.) 80% of all the ordered shows then star two or more leads of color. Only two have zero. (Last Man Standing and The Kids are Alright which as I mention in my other pieces do not think will do as well as the networks are hoping). However! At the moment, only three shows have visibly disabled characters and only The Redline actually has a disabled actor.
I hope we’ll get more characters with various disabilities but it’s incredibly frustrating that we still have such little disability rep that’s positive and realistic! Similarly, how many characters beyond the few we know from casting will end up identifying as part of the greater LGBTQ community? I think we’ve got five or six so far. While I do not mind finding out as I watch, I want characters with all sorts of lived experiences. Five might be the number of not thin/conventionally attractive actors too.
Which is why the writers rooms for these shows need to look as inclusive as the shows airing (or more)! We know shows with stories written by people who look like their characters do incredibly well at least critically and sometimes in the ratings too. I’m glad all the networks did better this year overall though I wish ABC had given orders to some of their other pilots.
Head over to the network links for my thoughts on the networks’ choices, trailer reactions, and more commentary on their seasons. Let me know in the comments here and there which shows intrigue you and which shows make you go “no way!”