ABC Is Finally Getting the Message That Viewers Want Diversity on TV
ABC has had a disappointing season, and the network is looking to turn that around by placing its bets on a lineup with more diverse characters than has been seen on ABC, which has been known for sticking to the traditional formula, in the past. ABC finished in fourth place among the most desirable demographic for advertisers, adults ages 18 to 49 years old, and its primetime viewership fell 3 percent versus the previous season.
ABC’s most successful shows recently have been series that experiment with non-traditional characters. The Shonda Rhimes-created series Scandal, starring Kerry Washington as former White House communications director Oliva Pope, who starts her own crisis management firm, has been a blockbuster hit after debuting to low expectations that Americans would embrace a show led by a black woman. The series has also performed well with critics, and Washington is nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama for her work on the show.
Modern Family is another nontraditional series that ABC took a risk on only to reap a big reward. The sitcom is about three different families, including a gay couple who get married and adopt a child, as well as an older white man who marries a young Latina woman. Modern Family also saw some of the network’s best ratings.
ABC’s entertainment president, Paul Lee, said that the success of those two series has caused the network to move toward including more diversity in this coming year’s lineup. “America doesn’t look like that anymore,” Lee said of shows with all-white casts, speaking during ABC’s presentation at the Television Critics Association summer press tour in Beverly Hills, per the Los Angeles Times. “When I came here, I wanted to find shows that reflected America. That’s our job,” the British executive added.
ABC is doing that by putting faith in another series from Rhimes. How to Get Away With Murder stars Viola Davis as a morally complicated law professor who teaches students how to defend criminals. Davis is a critically acclaimed film star, known for her roles in The Help and Doubt. The addition of the new show will result in ABC’s Thursday night featuring two dramas led by strong African-American women.
How to Get Away With Murder isn’t the only diverse show that ABC is bringing to the table. Fresh Off the Boat is about an Asian-American boy who moves from Chinatown in Washington, D.C., to Orlando with his immigrant family. Cristela is about a type-A law student from a big Mexican-American family. The network is moving its Jewish family sitcom The Goldbergs to Wednesday nights. ABC also is feeling optimistic about Lawrence Fishbone’s Black-ish, which is about a black family living in a predominantly white upper-middle class suburb.
Of course, the wild success of Netflix’s Orange is the New Black likely helped boost the network’s confidence, as well. OITNB’s ensemble cast consists entirely of a hugely diverse group of women and was one of last year’s most popular shows.
Those who have been advocating for a more diverse representation of people in the entertainment industry have long said that there is an audience for narratives about women, LGBTQ characters, and characters of various races — that there is money to be made in producing those kinds of stories because there are plenty of people out there who want to hear them. It seems that television might finally be beginning to hear that message.
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