Most unscripted television series operate on the premise that they depict real people in their actual professions or day-to-day lives. So, it’s significant that all the shows nominated in the reality or competition host category at the Emmys this year feature people from marginalized groups or cultures. Whether it’s VH1’s “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” ABC’s “Shark Tank,” Netflix’s “Nailed It!” and “Queer Eye,” or Bravo’s “Top Chef,” this sends the message that the faces of these shows are leaders in the community and are to be respected.
“I feel my job is to be the audience’s representative,” says Padma Lakshmi of “Top Chef,” who is nominated alongside co-hosts Tom Colicchio and Gail Simmons. “I feel my role there is to translate the experience of eating that [contestant’s] food to the audience watching at home and asking the questions that the audience would want answered.”
Lakshmi, who is also an executive producer of “Top Chef,” was instrumental in broadening the show’s coverage beyond high-end dining or French cooking techniques because, she says, “I knew that a very small section of our culture can enjoy the food that we’re enjoying most of the time.”
This doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone on these shows is always welcoming. Tan France, the only one of the five “Queer Eye” hosts to be of South Asian descent, says he encountered racism from one of the “heroes” (or subjects) in the show’s most recent season. This is especially problematic because “Queer Eye” films on location and not on a soundstage. France says, “When you’re in somebody else’s home, you’ve got so many more factors to consider.”
Also, there is the need to keep things professional. “It’s extremely difficult because I am on a show where I’m meant to always be amiable,” he says. “And sometimes the old Tan is still in there and gets really agitated and angry and wants to scream [but] it’s a reminder of how skilled we are as hosts that we manage to navigate the choppy waters and use it as opportunities to teach and for, hopefully, our heroes to learn.”
These can also be learning opportunities for development executives. Nicole Byer of “Nailed It!” says she doesn’t feel any added responsibility as the host of her popular Netflix baking-comedy series but hopes “that casting just goes, ‘Oh well, that worked. So maybe we’ll look for a woman of color, a person of color, a Black person, a trans person. Just look beyond the normal stuff.’”
There’s also some debate as to how well reality actually has embraced diversity. France says the genre “has done a better job of representing a more diverse group” than scripted series and that “when you take away a character or a script and you just let them speak from the heart, I think that offers a much greater version of a community than a scripted show.” But Byer notes it can be “apples and oranges” to compare scripted and unscripted strides “because budget for reality is cheaper, so you can turn out more. So, if there’s more products, then there’s probably more diversity or more inclusion.”
Either way, France has found a way to prove why it truly is an honor just to be nominated.
“The thing I also love about getting to go physically [to the Emmys] is being able to express my ethnicity through the clothes I wear,” he says. “Two years ago at the last [in-person] Emmys, I was able to wear something ethnic. I knew for a fact that I was not going to make any Western best-dressed lists, but it was a representation of my community, my culture, and something I’m incredibly proud of.”