Ray Richmond contributes to Deadline’s TV coverage.
ABC‘s final panel at TCA late this afternoon was for its new drama Last Resort, but the subject was the casting of African Americans as leads of primetime series, or more specifically the lack of them. The cast of Last Resort is headed by Andre Braugher of Homicide: Life On The Street and Men Of A Certain Age fame. The military drama concerns the renegade officers and crew aboard a U.S. Navy ballistic missile submarine that defy direct orders and find themselves enemies of the United States. It’s being produced without the cooperation of the U.S. Navy. It’s actually the second drama with an African American male lead to be created and produced by Shawn Ryan, who cast Dennis Haysbert in his CBS drama The Unit. Of casting Braugher this time, Ryan said, “I simply wanted the best actor for the role … I just don’t concern myself with (ethnicity) but with how good can the show be? What writer wouldn’t want Andre saying their words? So things are changing, things are getting better I think. I feel like I’m doing my part. But it will be nice when these questions don’t get asked anymore, when Andre can just be an actor playing a role and get praise for his performance. But we’re not at that point yet. But I feel like we’re better off than we were 20 years ago and hopefully in 20 years we won’t need to worry about it at all.”
Braugher himself, when asked how much progress he believes has been made in having performers of color in front of the camera, said “I don’t have a lot of information to judge the world in which there’s a white Andre Braugher who did better than I did.” He cautioned that he didn’t mean to sound facetious or flippant. He thinks that ultimately, things will continue to progress despite the TV industry’s admittedly spotty record in diversity on both sides of the camera. “But I can’t tell you what decisions went into my being here.” Braugher added. “It’s a complex question that I’m not really equipped to answer in great detail.” He did profess to being “thrilled” to have been a seven-time Emmy Award nominee and two-time winner. “The only thing I can suggest is that this wasn’t a blip, that it’s part of a progression. But it runs at its own pace, and I don’t have control or the solution. I’m just part of the long arc of progress in which people of different races and ethnicities get a chance to shine at different times.”