Despite how the media might portray it, we live in the most diverse era of television ever.
That’s a great thing, especially because so many of these shows are great.
Let’s name the shows with a lead character of color:
Empire, Lethal Weapon, Rosewood, Pitch, and their special Rocky Horror Picture Show starred Laverne Cox as Dr. Frank-N-Furter.
Blackish, Fresh Off the Boat, Secrets and Lies, Quantico, Scandal, The Real O’Neals (the main character is gay), How to Get Away With Murder, Dr. Ken, Speechless (main character is disabled), and Good Morning America‘s main host is Robin Roberts.
Steve Harvey, Caught on Camera with Nick Cannon, and others (Superstore, This is Us, The Good Place) feature characters of color. Unfortunately, NBC gets that addition because of the lack of shows actually starring characters of color.
Um… what are you doing CBS? There are no CBS shows starring characters of color. Whoops. Maybe that’s why they don’t win Emmys anymore.
Jane the Virgin, and Whose Line Is It Anyway is now hosted by Aisha Tyler. They’re behind the 8-ball because they are really only superheroes, and none of their lead superheroes are of color. That’s more on DC.
Atlanta (FX), American Crime Story (FX), Tyrant (FX), Insecure (HBO), Ballers (HBO), The Eric Andre Show (Adult Swim), Master of None (Netflix), Luke Cage (Netflix), Narcos (Netflix), Mozart in the Jungle (Amazon), Transparent (Amazon).
And then everything on BET.
That’s not to discount the shows starring white women or featuring people of color. This article is just mostly about the shows actually starring POC.
The vast majority of these shows are extremely good. One of the top 3 Emmys went to American Crime Story. Shonda Rimes is wonder woman to ABC. And ABC leads the way.
So now I’m going to focus on the greatness of the diversity of television in these other shows.
Because we live in an era where diversity is a growing concern, those who are smart in the television world have gotten on it. Yes, I’m saying Les Moonves isn’t smart, at least not in this area. I never wanted to work for CBS anyway. ABC has brought in not only diverse shows, but showrunners, and that has made the difference. Netflix, HBO, and FX have all done the same. And that’s why they’re pumping out some of the greatest television now.
Let’s go network by network.
Fox is not a sitcom network. (It currently has three not on Sundays – two of them feature somewhat diverse casts.) So the network having that many characters in its hour-long programs is incredible. Especially for something founded by Rupert Murdoch. They have gotten behind the diverse movement in a big way.
That may mainly be because of Empire. It is the most successful show the network has had in a long time, and it features a very diverse cast. I cannot currently think of a white character – oh wait, there’s an interracial couple. Empire has been huge in pushing Fox in the right direction. Because of it, I believe, Fox was willing to take risks on Rosewood and Pitch. Lethal Weapon was bound to happen anyway, and it’s a question whether Damon Wayans, Sr. (reprising Danny Glover’s role) is the star of that show.
Lethal Weapon being commercially well received and not critically panned means that more diverse shows should be possible in the future. Especially for Fox. And that’s always a good thing.
ABC has gone more and more diverse over the years. I don’t think Modern Family gets the credit it deserves for this. It spawned the Wednesday night lineup, with some of the most diverse shows on television. That includes Blackish and Fresh Off the Boat, which are both family sitcoms.
Both of these shows look at different types of family – Blackish looks at the modern black family, and Fresh Off the Boat is about the immigrant experience in the 90’s. Both have exceeded Modern Family in terms of diversity. And in terms of quality. Both are looks at things mainstream culture otherwise doesn’t see. The police brutality episode of Blackish, entitled “Hope”, is one of the greatest half-hours in television history.
The fact that all these diverse shows do this well for ABC shows their investment has paid off. Which means that ABC should continue being a frontrunner in diversity. As has been seen with the addition of Real O’Neals and Quantico. If only other networks would follow their example.
NBC has gotten a lot better about casting diverse supporting casts. Though they haven’t pushed stars as well. I think this pattern for NBC goes back to Community. The show had five white characters and four characters of color. That’s led to NBC having more of equal representation. I think they need to get better about having their characters move to the forefront though.
CBS is an old-person network. There’s a reason Colbert had to change his schtick. There’s also a reason they’ve stuck with NCIS so long. They know their base. And they’re unwilling to change it. And when it comes down to it, CBS is going to be left behind. They need to change, but they’ve never recognized it. The most diverse character on the network is LL Cool J in NCIS:LA. Like, come on. One of the very few conservative black men is your biggest star. Get. With. The. Times.
Jane the Virgin is one of the CW’s biggest hits. It’s also perhaps the most mainstream Spanish-speaking shows. They’ve incorporated Latinx culture so well into that show. The interracial relationship dynamic is also smart. Honestly, Jane might be the best show on the CW. And the Flash is really good.
If the CW were to do a show about a POC superhero though, they could do a lot worse than Martian Manhunter. He’s already a part of their network now, and he’s a great superhero. Superman once called him the greatest force on Earth. Like, he truly is better than Superman. Imagine if Superman had telepathy – that’s Manhunter. And he shapeshifts. So he becomes a detective. Or, in the stupid world of Supergirl, he works to prevent alien invasions. Which could be equally as interesting.
And then there are the other big networks doing diversity. Netflix has been great about it, with Luke Cage being all black. Same with Atlanta. The Eric Andre Show is two black guys, the only POC late night host (not to diminish Sam Bee, who is the only female).
These other shows either got big names or big stories. Ballers stars the Rock. American Crime Story is about the OJ case AND got Cuba Gooding Jr., who in my world at least never stopped being a big name. Tyrant is an exploration of another side of the world. Master of None has Aziz Ansari.
And that’s a good thing. It gets big names from different perspectives out there. It also shows that those kind of shows can be successful.
And when it comes down to it, that’s what the world needs. If the world is to get more diverse media, that’s how it’s done. The shows that have that diversity become successful. Those flourish, so the networks want to keep doing it. That’s how it needs to work in movies, and books, and radio. It’s how everything in the world needs to work.
But for now, let’s just hope it starts with television. Because if we can do that, we can start to make a better world. And a more entertaining one. Cause dude, I can’t say enough how good Blackish is. Kenya Barris and Anthony Anderson, if by any weird chance you ever read this, thank you. Thank you.