It’s upfront season, friends. A time when all the television networks announce their big, bold plans for the upcoming year, release teaser-trailers of new shows, make promises about those that will return, and cancel everything you love. (RIP Enlisted and Trophy Wife! You were too good for this cruel, harsh world.)
Some good news out of the upfronts: anyone who gets excited about increased diversity in the usually white-as-the-driven-snow landscape that is network TV is going to be psyched about what ABC has planned for next year.
Right now, ABC is in fourth place. Fourth place, as we all know, is the worst place. If it were a place worth having, you’d be able to get an Olympic medal for it. But maybe things are about to be looking up for the network, given that they are making the most conscious, high-profile attempt to introduce shows that feature people of color. ABC chief Paul Lee said of the lineup, “We wanted to reflect the changing face of America. We think it’s time. This is the right thing to do.” He’s certainly not wrong about the timing. ETA of majority-minority America: 2043. Networks pay lip service to diversity all the time, but this is so much more than just talk: ABC is actually investing significant money in the belief that shows featuring diverse casts can be just as successful as the rest of the pack. They’re tapping into a market that is mostly ignored and, if they succeed, could become trendsetters for the rest of the industry.
What are the big diversity landmarks here?
1. Shonda Rhimes, the creative mind behind Scandal, Grey’s Anatomy and Grey’s spinoff Private Practice, will get a night all to herself. Her new show, How To Get Away With Murder, is a legal thriller starring Viola Davis. Davis is one in a long line of female film stars to turn up on television in the past few years, a move that would once have been a mark of an actress who couldn’t hack it in movies but has become quite the savvy career booster, as Hollywood builds more films around comic books and board games and fewer around the murderer’s row of talented women who want to read scripts that pass the Bechdel Test. (see also: Claire Danes and Homeland, Zooey Deschanel and New Girl, Robin Wright and House of Cards, Kerry Washington and Scandal, Glenn Close and Damages.)
This is exciting for the obvious, fangirl-worthy reasons — Viola Davis! Remember her in Doubt? She was the best thing in Doubt, like better-than-Meryl best — this means a solid two hours of the most highly coveted prime time real estate is being led by two black women; How To Get will follow Scandal (which will still follow Grey’s, rounding out your Shonda Rhimes hat trick) on Thursday nights, still the most coveted timeslots on TV. “Timeslots,” for all you millennials playing along at home, are this thing that used to matter when people watched shows at the real time that they aired, and now are just a contest among networks that most normal humans can’t be bothered to care about or remember.
2. Fresh Off The Boat is a half-hour sitcom about an Asian-American family that takes place in the ’90s, Buzzfeed’s favorite decade. A family of Taiwanese immigrants —12 year old Eddie and his parents — just moved to the Orlando suburbs from Chinatown in D.C. It’s based on Chef Eddie Huang’s memoir of the same name. If you are thinking you can’t remember the last time you saw an Asian-American family be the center of a network television sitcom, that’s probably because Fresh Off The Boat will be the first one in twenty years. (That show was Margaret Cho’s All-American Girl, which featured a Korean-American family and aired for only one season, from 1994-1995. It was a big deal, though! Great guest stars, too, like Oprah, Jack Black and Quentin Tarantino.)
3. Black-ish is a sitcom about an upper-middle class black man “who struggles to raise his children with a sense of cultural identity despite constant contradictions and obstacles coming from his liberal wife, old-school father and his own assimilated, color-blind kids,” according to The Hollywood Reporter. (Larry Wilmore, Stephen Colbert’s successor on Comedy Central, was showrunner and executive producer of the sitcom.)
4. Cristela, named for its star, Latina stand-up comic Cristela Alonzo, is a new half-hour comedy that will air Friday nights at 8:30. Honestly, the first look (video below) isn’t really funny at all; if this is the best 30 second clip they had, well, that is not a very good sign.
Her stand-up is sharper, though, so here’s hoping she’s able bring that bite with her. As someone with a popular name, I am especially fond of her bit on nicknames. She speaks the truth: