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New 2019-20 Broadcast Shows Hit Parity for Female Leads but See Fewer Roles for People of Color

As another year of new broadcast series orders comes to a close, and while parity has been achieved when looking at the division of male-female lead and co-lead roles on new series, the percentage of those roles for people of color, as well as executive-producer positions for women and people of color, actually declined when compared to last season. In the case of two networks — Fox and NBC — there are no women of color in executive producer roles in new series.

Working with industry sources, Variety has identified 102 key roles in 35 new scripted shows that will debut on broadcast television in the fall of 2019 and beyond. Among these roles across the five major networks (ABC, CBS, the CW, Fox, NBC) are 54% women and 35% people of color. Breaking it down further, Variety has identified 20.5% women of color in these roles.

Meanwhile, behind the scenes, Variety identified 29% women in executive producer roles, with 16% people of color (3% women of color). These percentages encompass all executive producers, not just creators and/or showrunners, as not all showrunners were set as of press time.

“Our goal is to have the industry represent the population of the United States. Fifty-one percent of the population is female; 19% is women of color; that’s what this industry should look like in front of and behind the camera,” says Kirsten Schaffer, executive director of Women In Film, who is also on the executive team of ReFrame.

“Incremental change, and consistent change, is what is really important to us. The change that really needs to happen is in bringing more people into the fold in the first place and then elevating them. So it will be interesting to see how many female writers are in those writers’ rooms and how they’re moving up — and then to ask the networks, ‘Why aren’t you giving more of these women their own shows?'”

Last year, the share of women in lead and co-lead roles for the 2018-19 broadcast television season hit 42% and was declared to be “inching toward parity” by this publication. While that benchmark was achieved, inclusion in all of the other categories took a year-over-year hit.

For 2018-19, there were 42% people of color leading or co-leading series in front of the camera. And even in the less-visible position of executive producers, 34% were women, 10.7% were people of color and less than 3% were women of color).

Overall, this year’s numbers fall in between those of 2017-18’s television season and last year. For the 2017-18 season, only 35% of the roles were female and 20% people of color, while executive producers saw 29% women and 10% people of color.

“If it was about employment alone, it would be important, but it’s extra important because this is not just about a job, this is about creating and delivering the stories that shape our culture — that shape our belonging and that shape who we can be and who we want to be.” says Rashad Robinson, president of Color Of Change. “And when people are left out, in systemic ways, it has deep impacts in our society.”

Diversity Leads and Co-leads 2019 Network TV
CREDIT: Variety

Using crime statistics as an example, Robinson says violent crime has decreased on a stead scale, but Americans believe it is actually increasing. “It’s not because of their experience; it’s because of what they’re seeing in the media. The images and the stories are important,” he says.

Going forward into the new television season, there is bound to be some adjustments with casts, as well as new showrunner hires that will alter these numbers slightly. Already Mark Webber has departed ABC’s “Stumptown” for example, while Jasmine Kaur was recast on Fox’s “Deputy” and Freddie Prinze Jr. was replaced in the CW’s “Nancy Drew.” The latter roles have already been filled: with Bex Taylor-Klaus and Scott Wolf, respectively.

However, as it stands right now, ABC ordered six new series (four dramas and two comedies), comprised of 53% women and 59% people of color (29% women of color, specifically) in front of the camera, with 22% women executive producers and 33% executive producers of color (5.5% women of color as EPs).

Overwhelmingly, the percentages for all of these considerations shot up due to the network’s “Black-ish” spinoff “Mixed-ish,” which boasts nine African American executive producers, not including showrunner Karin Gist. “Emergence,” which was originally in contention for NBC but picked up by the Alphabet in a not-so-surprise move since it comes from ABC Studios, also improved the numbers for female representation, given that it was created and will be executive produced by Michele Fazekas and Tara Butters, who will co-showrun.

It proves to be a mixed bag for new network president Karey Burke, who joined the network after the slate was already in development. Numbers are significantly up in acting roles from last year’s 35% female and 35% people of color — making ABC the only broadcaster to see increases in both of those areas — but down from 35.5% female and 10% people of color behind-the-scenes for the 2018-19 television season.

This year CBS has eight new series, with an even split between comedy and drama. Fifty-five percent of the lead or co-lead roles have gone to women this year, while 32% are people of color (with 18% specifically being women of color). Series such as legal drama “All Rise” and “FBI” spinoff entitled “FBI: Most Wanted” have aided in the increase in diversity on-screen, as both are ensembles meant to reflect the population of the workplaces and cities in which they are set.

But while the percentage of female leads has inched up slightly from last year’s 52%, representation for people of color is down significantly from last year’s 57%.

And after a year when the network was rocked with sexual harassment allegations and underwent major leadership changes, there are actually fewer women and marginally more people of color at the executive producer level on the eight new series, as well. CBS shows 32% female executive producers this year, with a handful of them also running their shows. Michelle King will co-run “Evil” alongside her husband and long-time writing/producing partner Robert King, while Jennie Snyder Urman is set to steer “Broke,” and Emily Halpern and Sarah Haskins are heading “Carol’s Second Act.” When it comes to people of color in executive producer roles, 13.5% are people of color and 3% are specifically women of color. Comparatively, this time last year, the nine new CBS series saw 33% female and 14% people of color in executive producer roles.

The CW renewed so many series for additional seasons it only had room to pick up three new ones: dramas “Batwoman,” from the DC universe; “Katy Keene,” from the “Riverdale” universe; and “Nancy Drew,” a reimagining of the classic books. All three are named for their female titular characters, so it is no surprise that the number of women in lead and co-lead roles shot up this year — to 100%. The top three roles in each of the new shows went to women, and 44% of those went to women of color.

Last year the CW released its “Open to All” campaign and this year network president Mark Pedowitz promised continued commitment to diverse faces in front of the camera and diverse voices behind the camera, using “All American” (which has been renewed for a second season) as a benchmark of success. Admittedly, though, this year the on-camera stats are down when it comes to people of color, from 54% last year.

Network TV Executive Producers Diversity Network TV
CREDIT: Variety

Meanwhile, on the executive producer front, this year has 43% women, 29% people of color and 7% women of color at the CW. While numbers are down from last year when it comes to women (then it was 46%), they are notably up for people of color; for the 2018-19 television season only 3% of new CW series executive producers were people of color. Two of the three new showrunners are women; Caroline Dries, who created “Batwoman” will also run the show, while Melinda Hsu Taylor will run “Nancy Drew.” (“Katy Keene” will be co-run by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Michael Grassi.)

Out of the 10 new series from Fox, including three animated comedies, one live-action comedy and six dramas, the make-up of on-screen talent (leads and co-leads) includes 54% women and 25% people of color, with the majority of the latter being women of color (21%). Series such as “Not Just Me,” which centers on three women who learn they share the same father, and “Filthy Rich,” which is also about three adult children who come together after their father passes to fight his nuclear family for part of the inheritance, certainly boosted the numbers for women this year, helping lift the overall percentage well-beyond last year’s 29%. However, Fox, too, has seen a decline in people of color in lead and co-lead roles from last year’s 41%.

Last year, though, Fox also had more returning series that featured women and people in color in prominent roles than what makes up the slate this year. Although “Empire” is returning for a sixth and final season, series such as Lee Daniels’ other musical drama, “Star,” and single-camera comedy “Rel” were canceled this spring. It is worth noting, though, that the new series in the “9-1-1” franchise, entitled “9-1-1: Lone Star,” has yet to cast anyone other than star and co-executive producer Rob Lowe.

Behind-the-scenes on new Fox series there are 32.5% women, 2% people of color and no women of color at the executive producer level, which marks an uptick in women (2018-19 saw 20%), but again a significant decline in people of color (2018-19 featured 12%). When it comes to showrunners, Fox does have a number of women and one person of color already set, although not all shows have selected their showrunners yet. Emily Spivey, who created animated comedy “Bless The Harts” will co-showrun alongside Andy Bobrow; Julie Scully who co-created the animated series “Duncanville” alongside Mike Scully and Amy Poehler will co-showrun with Mike; “The Great North” co-creators Wendy, Molyneux Lizzie Molyneux and Minty Lewis will also co-showrun that animated comedy; and Annie Weisman will run “Not Just Me.” Only the family drama “Filthy Rich” has yet to set its showrunner.

Over at NBC, which ordered four comedies and four dramas this year, the new lead and co-lead roles are filled by 38% women, 27% people of color and 8% women of color. While NBC is seeing an increase in the number of people of color on-screen (last year saw 30%), it is seeing a decrease in female representation on-screen after last year’s 49%. “Council of Dads,” NBC’s new “found family” drama about a man who asks three of his friends to help raise his family when he receives a cancer diagnosis certainly skewed these statistics to be more male.

Behind the scenes at the Peacock there are 18% women and 13% people of color in executive producer roles. Seven of the eight series have set their showrunners already, with only “The Kenan Show” still to be determined. Out of the showrunners, one (VJ Boyd, who co-created “Lincoln” with Mark Bianculli) is African American and two (“Perfect Harmony’s” Lesley Wake Webster and “Council of Dads’s'” Joan Rater, who will co-showrun with Tony Phelan) are women. Notably there are no women of color in an executive producer position.

However, while representation for women has declined from last year’s 25% in the executive producer role, there is a touch more inclusivity for people of color overall: Last year only 10% of executive producers were people of color. It is also worth noting that two key comedies — “The Kenan Show” and “Sunnyside” — boast stars who are also executive producers and happen to be of color.

“Our country is becoming increasingly diverse and our stories need to come from people who are diverse. And the barriers that are preventing people from having the opportunities need to be broken both from a business perspective and from a cultural perspective,” Robinson says. “It’s not just about being included in old models, it’s about what are the new models and plans to ensure that real change happens.”

Robinson points to the importance of demanding transparency from studios and networks when it comes to budgets and their own internal HR numbers as a way of continuing to affect change. Acknowledging that this report specifically looks at those in the more powerful positions of executive producers and the top of the call sheet for actors, Robinson says the industry still has a “pipeline and hiring problem” because while more inclusive hires might be happening, they are still at lower levels without the chances to move up and create more opportunities.

“Many of the diversity programs have had good intentions but window dressing effects, in that folks are not getting the pathways to leadership,” he says. “At the very top when consolidated power prevents leadership from being diverse, it impacts the entire industry.”

Similarly, Schaffer points to the “huge impact” overall deals have on the shows that get made and the storytellers who make them. “If more women had overall deals, they’d create their own shows and they tend to work with women. I think it’s one of the most important things to look at,” she says.

Promoting more women, and specifically women of color, Schaffer says, are specific action items that can help turn the tide. “Once they’ve been a showrunner, then they’re more likely to continue generating new content.” Women in Film, she notes, in addition to The Black List and Sundance Institute, run episodic labs to vet project in order to connect emerging writers with those who often say they have trouble finding new, strong scripts. Color of Change also hosts salons with emerging writers. After all, it is not just about who is telling stories but also what stories are being told that need to reflect the culture.

“I watch a lot of crime shows, and we see tons of black judges — way more black judges than we see in real life — but without any backstory. What would have happened for a 65-year-old black woman to actually be a judge? The intention of not giving her a backstory [is] just making her a symbol,” says Robinson.

All of these new series have the opportunity going forward to flesh out detailed backstories for their diverse characters that speak to specific cultural experiences. Whether or not they do remains to be seen once series start premiering in the fall.

Will Thorne contributed to this report.

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