Inclusivity matters — and this year, the networks are finally stepping up. The current pilot season is shaping up to be one of the most diverse yet. With 54 of the season’s 75 pilots cast so far, people of color have been cast in lead roles in approximately 56% of new projects across all of the networks.
Of ABC’s 22 pilot orders, 16 have cast at least one role — and 8 feature people of color in lead roles. Those include Hannah Simone, who is the lead of the rebooted comedy “Greatest American Hero,” Kylie Bunbury in the network’s reboot of “Get Christie Love,” Roselyn Sanchez in the Eva Longoria-produced drama “Grand Hotel,” and Yvette Nicole Brown in the comedy “Most Likely To.” Romany Malco and Anne Son have been cast in the ensemble drama “A Million Little Things,” Afton Williamson is set to star in “The Rookie,” and Annie Ilonzeh will play one of the leads in “Staties.”
“Having individuals who represent the diversity of this country featured in lead roles is nothing new at ABC,” Channing Dungey, president of ABC Entertainment, said in a statement to Variety. “We want people to watch our shows and see themselves reflected in our characters and storylines, and this is fundamental to our thinking as we make those critical decisions about casting our pilots.”
CBS has 18 pilots in the pipeline, with 13 of those having locked in cast members — and 8 have cast leads of color. That’s a marked uptick from last year, when CBS was roundly criticized lack of civersity among its cast. This time out, Jay Hernandez will take over for Tom Selleck in the rebooted version of “Magnum P.I.,” while Teyonah Parris will play one of the leads in the crime drama “Murder.” “The Mayor” star Brandon Michael Hall will topline the cast of “God Friended Me,” Bokeem Woodbine will star in “Main Justice,” based on the life of former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, and Emayatzy Corinealdi has been cast in the police shooting drama “Red Line.” Alana de Garza and Aunjanue Ellis will play two of the three leads in police drama “Chiefs,” and Damon Wayans Jr. has signed a sizable deal to play the lead of an untitled comedy from Tim McAuliffe and Austen Earl. Finally, Ana Villafañe will lead the multi-cam comedy “History of Them.”
“Inclusive storytelling and casting has been an important part of our development, said Thom Sherman, senior executive vice president of programming for CBS Entertainment. “We have incredibly talented actors and actresses leading our pilots and we’re excited to start production.”
NBC has begun casting 10 of their 15 pilots, with 6 of those featuring people of color as leads. Natalie Morales will play the title role in the comedy “Abby’s” from Josh Malmuth and Mike Schur. Sasheer Zamata will play the female lead of comedy “So Close,” and Sarayu Blue will play the female lead in the untitled comedy from Aseem Batra. In one of the most high-profile projects this pilot season, Gabrielle Union is set to reprise her role from “Bad Boys 2” in an action-drama centered around her character.
“I think that particularly for producers who have worked with us before, they know that when we pick up a show and we have that first casting discussion, we’re already going to be talking about identifying which roles we think could be diverse or frankly just having a conversation saying that we have an expectation of very inclusive and diverse casting in our pilots,” said Grace Wu, executive vice president of casting for NBC.
On Fox, 9 of their 11 pilots have set cast members, with 4 of those featuring people of color. Lil Rel Howery will star in his self-titled sitcom “Rel,” and David Alan Grier is set as one of the leads in the retirement home comedy “Cool Kids.” Child star Saniyya Sidney is also set for a major role in “The Passage,” which is undergoing reshoots for a potential fall 2018 launch. Callie Hernandez will play the female lead in the ensemble music drama “Mixtape.”
“Fox always has strived to showcase programming that truly reflects society and features authentic points of view,” a Fox spokesperson said. “Diversity and strong representation, both in front of and behind the camera, remain a business imperative as we begin production on our pilots for next season.”
Finally, The CW has set cast members for 6 of their 9 pilots, with 4 pilots led by people of color thus far. Melonie Diaz has nabbed one of the lead roles in the “Charmed reboot,” while Jeanine Mason has been cast as the lead of the “Roswell” reboot. Buzzfeed star Quinta Brunson will play one of the leads in “The End of the World as We Know It,” and Taye Diggs recently signed on to the untitled drama based on the life of pro football player Spencer Paysinger.
“It’s always been important to everyone at The CW that our series be representative of all of our viewers, both in front of and behind the camera,” said Lori Openden, The CW’s executive vice president of talent and casting. “With all of our shows, from ‘Jane the Virgin’ to ‘Riverdale’ to ‘Black Lightning’ and the DC shows, it’s clearly been a priority for us for a long time that we have casts who reflect what our audience looks like. It’s not just the right thing to do, it makes us stronger creatively as a result.”
Of course, casting is not yet complete, and several shows not mentioned are billed as featuring diverse characters but simply have not set actors for those roles yet.