In searching for as large an audience as possible, it’s rare in television to go out of the mainstream, and with two black leads – German-born Boris Kodjoe and Brit native Gugu Mbatha-Raw – the Warner Bros. skein is taking a worthwhile gamble.
According to exec producer Josh Reims, the casting wasn’t originally intended to be groundbreaking, but it just might turn out that way.
“We weren’t going to hire two black people because they were black,” Reims said, who co-wrote the pilot with J.J. Abrams and was a member of the "Felicity" writing team. “We didn’t consider that we were revolutionizing TV, but we do realize it’s a big deal. We all wish it wasn’t such a big deal that two black characters were on a major TV show on a major TV network, but that’s the way it is now.”
Added Kodjoe: “It’s important recognize it’s not the norm, though it should be. The world is diverse and we come in all different sizes and shades. It’s important that we get a chance to be trailblazers, door-openers or whatever you want to call it. Let’s inspire people to regard it as normal. It’s not taking a chance, just being creative.”
Having a black lead isn’t anything new on the comedy side. Fox had lots of success with “The Bernie Mac Show” and, of course, “Cosby” is one of the biggest sitcoms of all time. And for dramas, there’s been dozens of cop and hospital shows that have had black and white main characters.
But two black leads as the faces of the show is definitely cutting edge for broadcast. On HBO’s critically applauded series “The Wire,” many of the drama’s main characters were black, adding to the rich cultural fabric of the show. Cable certainly has the opportunity to be more risk-taking than the broadcasters.
If “Undercovers” reaches a second season, the racial casting will become a forgotten story. That’s a good reason as any to hope it succeeds.