The new crop of scripted broadcast series for 2017-18 season features low representation for women and people of color in the topmost roles both in front of and behind the camera. According to an analysis by Variety, white men make up a the majority of showrunners and lead actors on the new series ordered for the upcoming season.
Working with industry sources, Variety identified 46 lead and co-lead actor roles, and 42 showrunners and co-showrunners on the 39 new series ordered by the Big Five broadcasters for next season. Of the lead actors, only 20% were Hispanic or non-white, and only 35% were female. Of the showrunners, 10% were non-white or Hispanic and 29% were female.
“It’s not a very encouraging analysis,” said Darnell Hunt, director of UCLA’s Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies. “Given the fact that things currently have a long way to go, if what you’re looking forward to for the next season in many of the categories isn’t exceeding what’s already there, there’s little to no prospect for progress.”
New series do not account for the totality of each network’s diversity next season. Freshman shows will air alongside veterans such as ABC’s “Black-ish,” CBS’ “Superior Donuts,” The CW’s “Jane the Virgin,” Fox’s “Empire,” and NBC’s “The Carmichael Show,” which feature women and people of color in lead acting roles and as executive producers. But the rates of representation that Variety found for the new class are consistent with the broadcast norm. (For example, the most recent installment of the Bunche Center’s Hollywood diversity report, which looked in detail at the 2014-15 television season, found 11% representation for minorities in lead broadcast roles and 38% representation for women.)
Looking ahead to next season’s freshmen, CBS, which has received ample criticism in recent years for an underrepresentation of onscreen minorities in lead roles in primetime, ranked lowest of all the broadcast networks in female showrunners, with 11%, and female lead actors, with 0. But the network fared slightly better in representation for racial and ethnic minorities, thanks to the drama “S.W.A.T.” starring Shemar Moore. The series’ creator, Aaron Thomas, is expected to split showrunning duties with fellow executive producer Shawn Ryan.
ABC, which has long touted its onscreen diversity as a selling point, ranked lowest in non-white/Hispanic lead actors at 9%, and was one of only two networks — the other being Fox — not to have a non-white or Hispanic producer handling the day-to-day running of a freshman show. ABC’s low marks are mitigated in part by representation on “For the People,” a broad ensemble featuring several non-white actors. ABC is in the process of recasting a lead role on the series that was played in the pilot by an African-American actress.
The network is still expected to outpace several competitors next season in terms of onscreen diversity.
“ABC is interesting because currently their shows are quite diverse,” Hunt said. “I guess it stands to reason that their new shows might not be quite so diverse, because if you put all of their shows together, you’d see a much higher share of people of color.”
The CW was the most diverse network in all four categories measured — in some cases separated from its competitors by a wide gulf. The network boasted 33% non-white or Hispanic lead actors, followed by Fox (30%), NBC (18%), CBS (13%), and ABC (9%). It was one of two networks with a majority female lead-actor pool (67%), alongside NBC (55%). Fox (30%), ABC (27%), and CBS (0) trailed in female leads.
The husband-wife team of Salim Akil and Mara Brock Akil on “Black Lightning” gave The CW a higher ranking than other networks in non-white or Hispanic showrunners. But the DC superhero drama is one of only three shows to be run by a non-white or Hispanic writer-producer. “S.W.A.T.” is another. NBC’s “Champions,” where Mindy Kaling is expected to shoulder showrunning duties with Charlie Grandy, is the third.
The CW was the only network to boast a majority of female showrunners at 67% — followed by ABC (33%), Fox (20%), NBC (20%), and CBS (11%).
Representation for 2017-18 will change as the season approaches, then begins. Several shows, such as Fox’s “911” and ABC’s untitled “Grey’s Anatomy” spinoff, have yet to be staffed or cast. And additional scripted series may be picked up between now and the end of the season.