The new series that have sprouted up for the 2018-19 television season are taking notable steps to be more inclusive in not only its casting but also with key creative roles, but parity still hasn’t been hit yet.
Working with industry sources, Variety has identified 88 key roles in 34 scripted shows debuting on broadcast in fall 2018 and beyond. Among these roles across the five major networks (ABC, CBS, the CW, Fox, NBC) are 42% women and 42% people of color. Breaking it down further, Variety has identified 18% women of color in these roles.
Looking at those behind-the-scenes in executive producer roles, 34% are women this year, while 10.7% are people of color (2.68% are women of color).
Of course, there will be personnel changes from pick-up to premiere that may alter these numbers slightly. CBS’ “The Code” and NBC’s “In Between” have already announced recasting for a key role each, while many series from first-time creators will surely be looking to attached a seasoned showrunner. Other executive producers attached to the pilot may not stay for the series.
But thus far, for the most part, inclusion has already increased from last television season, when with 46 lead and co-lead actor roles, 35% were female and 20% were non-white. On the executive producer side last year, 29% were women and 10% were non-white.
“I think overall for broadcast TV this is not decent improvement, we have been teetering around the same numbers for over a decade and things remain unequal and especially bleak for women of color,” Nicole Haggard, professor at Mount St. Mary’s University and founder of the Center for Women in Hollywood, tells Variety. “I am encouraged to see where specific networks are making changes and the ability to track how they are individually making advances so consumers can support networks truly dedicated to showing our lived experiences rather than a distorted version of reality,”
ABC, which features some long-running inclusive series including “How To Get Away With Murder” and “Fresh Off The Boat,” turned back toward the heartland slightly last season with its politically polarizing “Roseanne” reboot. And its 2018-19 television slate seems to reflect a desire to reach more of those viewers, as with eight new series, only one features a predominantly non-white cast (“Grand Hotel”). Overall, the network’s new offerings include 35% female and 35% people of color on the acting side, with 35.5% female and 10% people of color behind-the-scenes.
Last television season, CBS ranked the lowest for inclusion, with 0 female lead actors and only 11% of females represented behind-the-scenes. “SWAT,” which featured an African-American star (Shemar Moore) and co-showrunner (Aaron Thomas) helped the network fare better for people of color. However, the network faced intense scrutiny at the 2017 Television Critics Assn. press tour for its lack of inclusion, and the then-newly appointed president and senior vice president, Kelly Kahl and Thom Sherman, respectively, pointed out the programming slate was not one they had developed and therefore they would “do better” the next time. It seems Kahl and Sherman took that to heart this year.
With nine new series (including the straight-to-series order of the “Murphy Brown” revival), CBS has 52% female and 57% people of color on the acting side, with 33% female and 14% people of color behind-the-scenes. CBS has set three showrunners so far, two of them women (“Murphy Brown’s” Diane English and “Fam’s” Corinne Kingsbury) and one Asian-American (“The Red Line’s” Sunil Nayar). CBS also took time during its upfront presentation to call attention to the #SeeHer initiative, which isn’t just about portraying female characters but doing so “accurately.”
Interestingly, the CW has five new series and all of them were written and executive produced by females, although as of press time one has added a male showrunner (“In The Dark”). The network is bringing 54% female actors and 46% executive producers overall with their new series. And aside from boasting the returning “Jane The Virgin” and “Black Lightning” as predominantly non-white on-screen (and in the case of “Black Lightning,” behind-the-scenes with creators and executive producers Salim Akil and Mara Brock Akil, as well), the CW is also adding 54% non-white leads/co-leads in their new series. People of color only make up 3% of the executive producers of their new series, though.
Fox has picked up five new scripted shows, including resurrecting “Last Man Standing,” formerly on ABC. Since “Last Man Standing” has not shot new footage or staffed, it is not accounted for in executive producer numbers but star Tim Allen is counted toward the in front of the camera stats. Joining its returning line-up that includes long-running series such as “Empire” and “Star,” as well as last year’s freshman breakout “The Resident,” these new series feature 29% female and 41% non-white faces in front of the camera, and 20% female as well as 12% non-white behind the camera in executive producer roles. Only two of Fox’s pilots (“The Passage” and “Rel”) have set showrunners, and there it is a 50/50 split female and male, respectively; both are white.
With seven new scripted series across comedy and drama for the 2018-19 television season, NBC’s lead and co-lead actor make-up features 49% female and 30% non-white, accounting for the large ensemble series “The Village.” The Peacock has not yet determined all executive producers for its new shows, but currently 25% confirmed are women and 10% are non-white. NBC has selected showrunners for its six series already, however: Two are women and one is non-white.
While there have been important moves made across all broadcast networks this year, there is still far to go.
“As women and POC remain strikingly absent from key showrunner positions in broadcast television we need to remember that what we see on screen impacts the world around us,” Haggard points out. “Hollywood’s white-male-dominated control over images has been instrumental to the maintenance of gender and race discrimination in our culture.
“As we inch closer to equality, I’d like for us to also consider and be mindful of who these characters are and how they are functioning in the world outside of the traditional stereotypical behavior and gender roles assigned to them. Sterling K Brown reminded us that blind casting served well to increase diversity and inclusion, however now we need to be cognizant of not just filling in random characters or making every judge a woman of color, but thoughtfully and purposefully creating characters that embody a [fully] lived experience. This is achieved by diversifying writing rooms and decision-making positions from people who will not make assumptions about what Americans want to see based upon their limited worldviews.”
Kirsten Chuba contributed to this report.