ABC has been very, very good at building diverse casts and rosters of characters for television shows, and minority media groups recognized them for it earlier this week. When the nominations for the NAACP Image Awards came out, ABC was in the mix in prime time with Modern Family in Outstanding Comedy Series, Vanessa Williams in Desperate Housewives, Damon Wayans, Jr. in Happy Endings, Sofia Vergara for Modern Family, Grey’s Anatomy for Outstanding Drama Series, Taye Diggs in Private Practice, Chandra Wilson, Sandra Oh, Loretta Devine, and James Pickens, Jr. for acting on Grey’s Anatomy. And the network snagged an additional eight nominations in the GLAAD Media Awards, including Grey’s Anatomy and Pretty Little Liars in Outstanding Drama Series, Happy Endings and Modern Family, and the episode “Acceptance” on Man Up!.
I’m particularly glad to see the love for Happy Endings, which has its flaws, but I think is the best group-of-friends comedy on television right now. At the Television Critics Association press tour, I asked creator David Caspe how he came up with the character of Max, who I think is one of the most balanced portrayals of a gay man anywhere in popular culture right now. Caspe said that while he knows Max has gotten praise for avoiding being either totally nelly or totally butch, he just based the character on a friend of his. It’s evidence of the fact that pop culture will get more diverse not only as the country does, and generational turnover (hopefully) makes the entertainment industry less white and dudely, but as white dudes have more diverse groups of friends and more contact with other kinds of people.
Similarly, Revenge, about which I really should be writing more, has done a nice job of getting different kinds of people into what’s typically seen as a hegemonic enclave. They’ve got both race and class in Ashley, who is trying to make her way in a world that looks down on her more for her economic station than (at least explicitly) her skin color. And Nolan is gay and techie and something entirely behind the standard menu of gay stereotypes. Tyler’s bisexuality was handled as if it was no big deal — neither he nor Nolan have ever had a conversation about their sex lives that’s about orientation, just individuals. Sometimes, I think TV shows get themselves hung up on the idea of diversity because they think they’d have to tell stories that are explicitly about the experience of being diverse. But it turns out that black people and gay people want things that don’t have to do with being black and gay.