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Broadcast Television Networks and the Diversity Train

CBS is finally on the diversity train conducted by ABC (at least in the last five years or so). They may be the caboose, but they’re finally on it. In January it was reported that among the first few pilots picked up by CBS, a reboot of the well-loved Nancy Drew had been ordered. The show would depict Nancy in her 30s as a detective for the NYPD. It sounds right up CBS’ alley. Except for one really important fact: Nancy won’t be white. President Glenn Geller stressed that she wouldn’t be Caucasian and he was open to any other ethnicity for Nancy.

Even more importantly, he added that diversity is playing a major role in this development season with a lot of new series in development “targeted to have full Africa-American or Latino casts” and “many leads that are being developed as diverse.” This is the network that I once wrote about having a white cast plus token POC problem. It seems like they’ve finally gotten the message after shows like HTGAWM and Empire have succeeded so well.

CBS is not the only network dealing with huge changes. Just last week, ABC’s Chief of Entertainment Paul Lee resigned and was replaced by head of drama Channing Dungey making history. Dungey is the first African American entertainment president of a broadcast network! It’s one thing to have diverse casts, but another entirely to have diverse writers, producers, crews, and now presidents.

Lee deserves much credit for ushering diversity into primetime since he and Dungey developed many of the followings shows; Scandal, HTGAWM, Black-ish, Quantico and Fresh off the Boat. Unfortunately, many of these shows have been slipping in the ratings game and ABC is now dealing with being in a negative ratings territory.

With Dungey in charge, the push for diversity won’t be changing. Diversity was a part of her old role and she is working to keep being “as diverse as [they] possibly can — both in front of and behind the camera – going forward.” Especially considering having a diverse breadth of people working for and on a show makes sense for storytelling, reflecting the world we all live in, and importantly to network executives. business sense.

Between CBS’s president finally acting on what most of us watching television have always known about diversity being necessary and important t, and Dungey’s investment in keeping shows diverse in all ways possible; this year’s pilots might actually be both diverse <em>and </em>good.

Last year, 64% of shows (compared to the previous year’s 32%) had a cast that wasn’t predominantly white. However, many weren’t positive depictions of POC and in some case were just plain bad. Network television has been changing slowly in ways that many of us never saw coming. For example, the ratings system and its perceived importance, pilot ordering and shooting, and even when shows are taken off air has been different every year.

Glenn Geller and Channing Dungey are giving me hope about the options I’ll have come September.


Image courtesy of ABC

Seher
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Seher obsesses over show ratings and usually writes about media representation issues. Otherwise, she's reading away for her graduate program in anthropology.

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