Last week was Upfronts, where networks unveiled their new shows. Since 2014, I’ve counted how many have diverse casts and/or leads of color and what the common themes were.
(I have linked to each show’s trailer as available and starred the shows I’m interested in watching.)
From 2014 to 2016, there has been a steady increase from 31% to 73% of shows making the cut. Genre-wise, last year’s new time travel shows all failed except for a last-minute un-cancellation for Timeless. However, the overall ratings decline for broadcast television truly hurt. With networks cutting fees and studios sharing back-end revenue, 36 is way short of the 40-50 ordered since at least 2011. So I’m not sure whether the numbers will even be comparative. Still, ABC and The CW (surprise) lead the pack.
9 dramas | 4 comedies
This year’s Shondaland For the People follows young lawyers handling high-stake federal cases and their personal lives plus a last minute pickup for a Grey’s Anatomy spin-off about firefighters. Deception* centers on a disgraced magician turned FBI consultant. The Crossing* has American war refugees going back in time, seeking asylum. Finally, The Gospel of Kevin with a down-and-out guy who has to save the world after a visit by a celestial being.
The pickup of Marvel’s Inhumans joins two straight to series orders. Ten Days in the Valley and Somewhere in Between. The first centers on TV producer Jane Sadler, whose young daughter goes missing, paralleling the cop drama she produces. The second depicts a mother placed in the path of her daughter’s killer.
Among the comedies, The Mayor* depicts a young rapper’s run for mayor as publicity stunt and the aftermath when he get elected. There’s also Alex, Inc. about a husband and father who decides to quit his job and start his company. Plot-wise, all of these seem entertaining enough.
On the other hand, The Good Doctor, has a young brilliant doctor with autism struggling with social interaction. A diverse cast can’t make up for ableism. If the writers do their research instead of focusing on stereotypes, the show could succeed in representation.
4 dramas | 4 comedies
Last year was a major disappointment when white men led each show. In response to critical questioning, entertainment president Glenn Geller stated that CBS needed to do better 11 separate times. They failed.
Though S.W.A.T* about a locally born and bred S.W.A.T. lieutenant is led by Shemar Moore, the other shows are all led by white dudes. (By virtue of that plot and his neighborhood, it’ll have many POC but likely not in the greatest roles.) SEAL Team is about Navy SEALs. Instinct involves a former CIA operative turned gifted professor ends up helping the NYPD stop a serial killer. Finally, Wisdom of the Crowd* portrays a man’s attempt at crowd-sourcing the solving of his daughter’s murder and ultimately other crimes.
9KJL has a man living in an apartment building between his parents’ and brothers’ apartments. Me, Myself, and I examines one man’s life over fifty years focusing on three distinct periods. Young Sheldon is about Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory, and By the Book details the life of a modern day man deciding to live by the Bible. (Blegh.)
So I echo my own 2015 article on CBS’s white casts + token POC issue plus the remarks made by the press. CBS had “years to fix this.” (2016) Shouldn’t they worry that “they’re facing the wrong direction?” (2017) According to CEO Les Moonves who led the presentation, no.
CBS get it together!
4 dramas | 0 comedies
Surprisingly, two have leads of color! Black Lightning, about a Black father who gets pulled back into the vigilante life, is the most diverse and the CW’s second to have Black leads. It might actually get me to watch a comic show again. The other is a diverse and modern Dynasty remake, where the rich WASP’s new step-mom is Latina.
Valor, their second drama focused towards a female audience centers on helicopter pilots who perform clandestine missions. Finally Life Sentence follows a girl who thought she was dying of cancer coming to terms with all of her actions when she finds out she’s just fine.
I don’t trust the CW but I’ll give them the credit for having all of their shows be diversely led.
5 dramas | 2 comedies
Four of Fox’s shows have leads of color.
Among the comedies, Ghosted depicts two recruits, a skeptic and true believer in the paranormal who must explain weird LA activity. Two dramas The Resident* and 911 follow an Indian medical resident’s experience in modern medicine and 911 operators respectively. Only the first had a trailer available, and I caught myself gasping because it was actually entertaining. A third year resident mentors a first year (from Harvard) while mitigating the senior doctor’s malpractice. (There’s also the second revival of The X-Files.)
The other comedy, LAX to Vegas, follows the flight crew’s adventure. Hopefully airlines will stop being terrible by September or this won’t get viewers. Drama The Gifted is the second Marvel series for broadcast and follows a white family whose children are mutants. Finally, The Orville (a Seth MacFarlane starrer) is set on a mid-level exploratory spaceship probing the galaxy in the 25th century.
4 dramas | 3 comedies
NBC’s pickups made for a mixed bag. On one hand, I am super excited for Sarah Shahi to be back on my TV in Reverie* which in a cast of five only has one white actress and follows Shahi as a former hostage negotiator turned college professor brought in to save people who have lost themselves in advanced virtual-reality.
The other dramas, Good Girls finds suburban wives and moms risking everything to take their power and NBC’s attempt at recreating Friday Night Lights/Glee success, Rise, centers on a high school drama teacher whose passion galvanizes the entire working class town.
However, I am cautious about The Brave, a look into the complex world of the country’s bravest military heroes who make personal sacrifices. So Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders meets every jingoistic Islamophobic show? To be fair any of these military/special operation team shows could be a nuanced look into those worlds. With it being from Homeland‘s executive producer, I don’t have much hope.
Comedies Champions (a guy finds out he has a teenage son) and AP Bio (philosophy scholar teaches in a highschool) are both led by White men but have actresses of color as the main supporting cast.
There’s also the Will and Grace revival.
Surprisingly, the CW technically has the most (4/4) shows with diverse casts. ABC has the most shows with leads of color (and diverse casts). NBC and FOX both have four. Disappointingly, CBS did not seem to even try. Overall, 22 of 36 shows had diverse casts and/or leads of color. Unlike last year, two shows had explicit mention to characters being LGB, Life Sentence and Dynasty. Coming in at 61% means there was a drop in diversely cast shows, but is expected with the less shows.
Thematically, only one courtroom drama, two medical shows, and a handful of procedurals made the cut. Like last year, four shows shared a theme: patriotic, military themed dramas. Valor, S.W.A.T, SEAL Team, and The Brave. The latter of which is getting a huge push by airing in the fall after The Voice. These seem obviously poised to reach a certain audience after the election.
As for procedurals, the formula this year is nothing too new. Just a twist on the lead character who changes jobs after a personal issue brought back to their old skill set due to a larger issue (Instinct, Deception, and Reverie).
Pre-Upfronts cancellations highlighted the trouble networks are having in creating scripted shows that break out in a crowded space. 19 were one season shows some of which were diverse. Honestly, this year was weird. By the Saturday night before Upfront presentations started, twelve shows were still undecided. Lastly, 36 (not counting revivals) is the least number of shows ordered since at least 2009.
What stays true is that money talks. The biggest way is from which studios networks order pilots. Last season’s biggest and only hit, NBC’s This is Us, was a production of 20th Century Fox TV. Yet of this year’s drama orders, CBS only had one outside pilot while Fox, NBC and The CW ordered zero. ABC had the most outside with four.
Networks then are likely to miss probable hits from outside studios. From a plot perspective, smaller studios or more imaginative creators may not get a chance to prove their worth unlike the Shonda Rhimes/Greg Berlantis of the producer world.
Since the broadcast ratings decline will continue, next year will probably be a repeat. Fingers crossed, diverse shows survive next year.
So what are y’alls reactions to the linked trailers and shows?