Diversity Aboveground: TV Winners & Losers 2016

Pearl Mackie

It’s that time of year again to reflect on what television gave us this season and whether next season will be better in TV Winners & Losers 2016.

Winners:

Literary Fans

Assuming they’re willing to put down their latest novel, book lovers will have more than usual to choose from on television.

ABC will have Still Star-Crossed picking up where Romeo and Juliet left off, based on Melinda Taub’s book. Shonda Rimes is producing so the period drama will have a diverse cast when it premieres midseason. Once Upon a Time enters its sixth season having added Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to the series. Since the first season had an episode based on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, anything is possible. Perhaps Dorothy Gale and Ruby Lucas will return.

Dorthy Gale and Ruby Lucas

When viewers last saw Dorothy and Ruby…

Following Once Upon a Time will be Time After Time. Adapted from Karl Alexander’s novel, H.G. Wells builds a time machine and accidentally unleashes Jack the Ripper on the United States in the 1970s. Wells tries to stop him while adjusting to the future.

Fresh Off the Boat, from Eddie Huang’s memoir of the same name, continues on Tuesday nights.

Elementary starts its fifth season this fall in its re-imagining of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic detective in modern times with a Joan Watson.

Fox continues Sleepy Hollow on Friday nights although the series has less and less in common with the Washington Irving tale and lost their female lead.

L.J. Smith’s series, The Vampire Diaries, has an eighth season on the CW.

Adria Arjona

Dorothy and the Scarecrow

Emerald City will air midseason on NBC. It’s a re-imagining of L. Frank Baum’s Oz universe using a global cast. Adria Arjona might be the first Latinx to play Dorothy while the Wicked Witch is Florence Kasumba.

Early 2017 will bring Starz’ adaptation of American Gods and Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman. The series, being run by Bryan Fuller, has placed an importance on making sure its characters who were People of Color in the novels are People of Color in the series. “American Gods is, at its heart, a book about immigrants, and it seems perfectly appropriate that Shadow will, like so much else, be Coming to America,” Gaiman commented on the English Ricky Whittle being cast as the lead in the series.

Of course, there are also about a dozen series currently in production based off comics or graphic novels as well as the other literary adaptations like Game of Thrones and Outlander. Plus, TNT premieres Will in 2017 a fictional account all about Romeo and Juliet‘s playwright.

Midseason

Romeo & Juliet

Still Star-Crossed

Unfortunately, there is a pattern to the series announcements. The majority of shows that sound the most awesome and/or have the most diversity? They won’t be debuting until December at the earliest. Still Star-Crossed, Time After Time, Emerald City and American Gods are all midseason series.

CBS bragged to the television critics about casting Laverne Cox as the first Transgender cast member in a prime-time network show to play a transgender character. CBS is playing a bit with semantics. Although Candis Cayne was in almost half the episodes of Dirty Sexy Money, she was never counted as a series regular and she’s only appeared in three episodes of Elementary as Mrs. Hudson. However, Cox’s new series, Doubt, is another midseason debut! If a network was truly proud of their series beyond the casting, shouldn’t it premiere during the fall? Another series, Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders, will explore the F.B.I. working across the world and CBS is also adapting Training Day for television. Yep, both of those are debuting midseason, too.

CW’s most anticipated new series, other than their acquisition of Supergirl, is Riverdale. This is a teenage drama using the world and characters of Archie comics. Even though people associate the comics with lighter fare, they do explore weightier topics. The series has already been compared numerous times with previous CW series, Gossip Girl. The traditionally Caucasian characters have been changed to be more inclusive but no word on whether Kevin Keller will appear or whether Jughead will be Asexual. Reign, iZombie and The 100 will all return midseason.

Fox is waiting on midseason to debut Star, Pitch and Shots Fired. Star‘s cast has three relative unknowns alongside Queen Latifah, Benjamin Bratt and Lenny Kravitz in Lee Daniels’ newest musical series. Pitch appears inspired by Mo’ne Davis who was the first female pitcher to not only lead her team to victory but a complete shutout over the other team. The Fox series imagines what life might be like for the first woman playing for a Major League Baseball team. Shots Fired explores racial tensions over a shooting in North Carolina. Sanaa Lathan stars as the expert sent to investigate by the Department of Justice. However, the actual Fox press release doesn’t list her until the second paragraph. The first paragraph is preoccupied with “ACADEMY AWARD WINNERS HELEN HUNT AND RICHARD DREYFUSS, AND STEPHEN MOYER”. Apparently, Lathan and the other People of Color are not ALL CAPS worthy according to Fox.

Danny Pudi and Vanessa Hudgens

Powerless

In addition to Emerald City, NBC is waiting until midseason to debut Powerless and Marlon. Both comedies star People of Color. In Powerless, Vanessa Hudgens’ insurance agent has to deal with claims within the DC Comics’ universe. Other cast members include Danny Pudi, Nelson Wong and Alan Tudyk. Marlon Wayans plays a version of himself in Marlon which deals with life with children after the divorce.

Speechless

This ABC sitcom is probably the most unique of the fall debuts. On the surface, it sounds like an age old tale of a family moving to improve their lives but learning they traded their old problems for new ones. However, one of those new problems is a school less than A.D.A. compliant for their oldest son, J.J. (Micah Fowler). J.J. is a teenager with cerebral palsy who depends on a wheelchair for mobility and is non-verbal. Normally, this sounds like Hallmark Channel territory but ABC is having it in a sitcom where it’s seen as just part of who J.J. is instead of just drama for his parents. It gets better. You may recall how Hollywood has a tendency to cast people without disabilities to play those differently abled?

Micah Fowler

“In real life, I live every day conquering challenges brought on by cerebral palsy. In addition to the physical challenges, one challenge I have noticed is that sometimes people who have not met me, seem uncomfortable around me. I hope as people watch “Speechless,” they get to know JJ as a very normal person, to the point that they don’t even see the disability,” Fowler wrote of his new role.

The full letter is an exclusive to The Mighty that you can read here:

http://themighty.com/2016/04/micah-fowler-actor-with-cerebral-palsy-stars-in-abc-pilot-speechless/

Supergirl

Supergirl also counts as a loser. The ratings went down and CBS dumped it. Maybe it should have always been on the CW who ended up rescuing it. Now, Greg Berlanti is free to mingle Supergirl and its characters amidst his other CW DCTV shows; Arrow, The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow. To further facilitate crossovers and save money, production is moving to Vancouver where the other series already film. However, that move is expected to force Calista Flockhart to either leave the show or reduce her main character to a recurring role. Since in many ways, her character, Cat Grant, became the best female on the series, it’s disappointing. Still, can you imagine Supergirl meeting Iris West (Candice Patton) or discussing flying with Hawkgirl  (Ciara Renée)?

This Is Us

Kate

One of the main characters for This is Us is Chrissy Metz. The actress is a plus size entertainer because she’s a triple threat: acting, singing and dancing. Her biggest role to date was “the fat lady” in American Horror Story where they made her wear a fat suit to appear even larger. The new NBC series promises to be more realistic about her looks and address what life is like for those overweight. The current theory is that she play’s the daughter of Rebecca (Mandy Moore) and Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) all grown up.

Losers:

Comic Book Series with Female Leads

Agent Carter dropped 4o% from the first season. It was the 4th worst decline of all network shows. ABC canceled plans for Marvel’s Most Wanted which was to star Bobbi Morse (Adrienne Padalecki) and Lance Hunter (Nick Blood). Being an Avenger in the comics, Mockingbird would have been the main draw. None of the newest announced Marvel shows on Netflix revolve around female protagonists either except season two of Jessica Jones. Freeform did announce a Cloak and Dagger series whose plot-line sounds like the un-aired  Jessica Jones series that was developed at Freeform’s predecessor ABC Family. Season four of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. appears to focus on A.W.O.L. Daisy Johnson and the new director is likely to be Melinda May. However, to think that makes up for the other losses is like what Marvel pulled with the Black Widow. It was claimed after Avengers: Age of Ultron that there would be no need for a solo Black Widow film but she ended up with 28 fewer seconds than the first Avengers film.

Kara and Barry

Supergirl‘s ratings also went down but they were good enough for CW especially since one of the highest rated episodes was a crossover with The Flash. CW’s only other DC series with a lone female protagonist is iZombie based on DC’s Vertigo title. There have also been complaints about Arrow killing off their female characters at a higher rate than their male characters. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has had similar complaints with killing off their diverse cast more than their heterosexual Caucasian characters.

Vanessa Hudgens’ Powerless won’t premiere until midseason. Syfy hasn’t announced whether Wynonna Earp will have a second season but it’s only garnered half as many viewers as The Magicians.

Strong Female Leads

There were several years in which the symbols for strong women on television were Temperance Brennan  (Emily Deschanel), Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) and Kate Beckett (Stana Katic). Brennan’s Bones is ending next season with a shortened number of episodes next winter. Midseason is also when Scandal returns although that was to accommodate Washington’s pregnancy. On April 18, it was announced that Katic and co-star Tamala Jones wouldn’t be returning for season nine of Castle. The series always enjoyed healthy ratings until the last couple of seasons which match up with less satisfying Beckett plot-lines, including episodes where she was basically absent. A large part of what made Castle so successful among viewers, especially women, is well written crime stories with a cast almost entirely People of Color and/or women. Of the nine characters to appear in 61 or more episodes, only two are Caucasian males. It was Castle‘s name on the series but Beckett, his enthusiastic daughter and strong-willed mother were a large part of why people kept tuning in as well as all their costars. 24 days after the announcement, ABC changed its mind and canceled Castle‘s 9th season. However, recent rumors of a spin-off with one or both male Caucasian actors prove how tone deaf the network remains.

Castle, Beckett and Parish

Nathan Fillion, Stana Katic and Tamala Jones

As alluded to earlier, Nicole Beharie left Sleepy Hollow after three seasons. Even when one is supposed to be a star of the series, it doesn’t guarantee that that they’ll be treated as such.

Females in General

Remember that Nancy Drew series that starred Sarah Shadi?

CBS passed on it. Prior to that, it had been renamed Drew to disguise it revolving around a female protagonist. The network has no new shows revolving around female leads debuting until midseason…but is it that unusual? Are any of the networks good for women?

What happens if someone takes a look at the new fall schedule and compares it with the cast for each series?

Fry tries to think.

96% ABC

93% FOX

90% CW If only Supernatural had a female cast member…

81% CBS

62% NBC

Damn, NBC, if you were in high school, you’d be grounded right now.

Now, how about if only the actual stars are counted and not the supporting cast who’s only allowed one or two decent plot-lines a year?

92% ABC

74% CBS

73% FOX

60% CW

57% NBC

Wow, what happened? It’s almost as if females are great as long as they’re not actually the leads? Wonder if there’s any group that could be even less represented like…

People of Color

Katherine Heigl

Doubt

Obviously, there are all those exciting series debuting or having their season premiere…midseason. However, there are also the Drew pilot that wasn’t picked up, Beharie leaving Sleepy Hollow, Arden Cho leaving Teen Wolf and ABC appearing to have a monopoly on Asian protagonists with three series.

Last month, Greg Berlanti spoke to The Hollywood Reporter how “Of the things that are personal to me, they’re not necessarily fights but they’re choices we made that were different that became conversations. For instance, in ‘The Flash,’ Iris West was never black in the comic books, and for ‘Supergirl,’ James Olsen was never black in the comics. So I wanted to contemporize these comics that I loved growing up and have them reflect the society that we live in now. Those have all been conversations. There’s a character we just added to ‘Arrow,’ Mr. Terrific, who is African-American and gay, and then of course we had one of our original Black Canaries [Sara Lance] be bisexual.”

It’s not just a problem in the United States either. Steven Moffat admitted in a recent issue of Doctor Who Magazine that “I had this baffling idea that if we just threw open each part to everybody, it would all work out in the end. I put my faith, inexplicably, in the free market. It doesn’t work. You can only cast for talent – you’ve got to cast the best person, every single time – but you’ve got to gauge where you’re looking for the talent.” So, when it came time for the showrunner to find a new companion for the Doctor, “We decided that the new companion was going to be non-white, and that was an absolute decision, because we need to do better on that. We just have to. I don’t mean that we’ve done terribly – our guest casts are among the most diverse on television, but I feel as though I could have done better overall.” He also appeared to confirm the rumor that Paterson Joseph was to be Eleven originally instead of Matt Smith. “I certainly don’t think there’s ever been a problem with making the Doctor black, which is why it should happen one day. I mean, we’ve tried. The part has been offered to a black actor. But for various reasons, it didn’t work out.”

The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) with his new companion Bill (Pearl Mackie) is the featured image for this article.

So, how big is this problem?

Hayes McArthur, Rashida Jones and Alfred Molina

Let’s use the same system as before to see who networks say are cast members.

90% CW Again, it would be a perfect score if not for Supernatural.

80% Fox

76% ABC

63% CBS

62% NBC

No, that’s not your imagination, those scores really a lot lower than listed female cast members. Now, what happens when, as before, only lead characters given sufficient screen-time and ongoing plotlines are counted?

Actual stars:

60% ABC

62% NBC

60% CW

43% FOX

37% CBS

Hmm, why was social media jumping on CBS for their lack of females when the real problem is their overwhelming Caucasian casts? Why is Fox so low when historically, they’ve been known for their African-American series?

Television

Looking at those percentages, is it any wonder why people would be spending more time online with people they feel more comfortable with? Or even cable television series like Angie Tribeca (pictured above)?

The Internet doesn’t have seasons so there’s always new content somewhere and chances are a lot better than broadcast television that those producers have darker skin, a gender that’s not male, speaks something other than English and/or doesn’t identify as heterosexual.

Broadcast networks can’t afford to ignore these other Points of View. No, they literally can’t afford it.

Just look at this graph:

http://www.vulture.com/2016/03/2015-2016-tv-season-in-one-depressing-chart.html

Seven series gained viewers, seven series maintained their viewers and the rest of returning network series lost as much 53% of the viewers from last season. Sleepy Hollow was renewed even though it lost 41% of its viewers, 1% worse than Agent Carter.

**********************

Remember when Nyle DiMarco won America’s Next Top Model last year?

This year, he’s won Dancing with the Stars! The importance of his win was illustrated by the media’s coverage of it. Many questioned how a deaf man could even dance. The ignorance is embarrassing and shows how much people like Nyle DiMarco are needed in the spotlight.

Of course, DiMarco’s sexual orientation wasn’t addressed at all. It should be progressive that the gender of one’s romantic partners doesn’t matter, right?

However, when a bigoted attack on a gay club full of Latinx reveals that many adults can’t even bring themselves to say “gay”, there needs to be more representation in media. Right now, the faces of the victims from Orlando are the most famous members of the LGBTQUIA+ community. This needs to change. Representation shouldn’t be restricted to June or only certain channels like Logo or characters created to be expendable.

In the wake of the tragedy, it would be expected to networks respond by announcing more characters either LGBTQUIA+and/or Latinx. There have only been two announcements. One was about the Doctor Who spin-off Class:

The other is that Wilmer Valderrama is joining NCIS. There’s no word on his character’s sexuality but above, in this column, it was established how People of Color are lacking especially at CBS.

Where do you think broadcast television needs to do better?

Next column explores why Thor: Ragnarok could be a turning point for the Marvel Cinematic Universe…


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