The top-rated new drama this fall is How To Get Away With Murder. The top new comedy, Black-ish. The best-reviewed new series, Jane The Virgin, with its lead Gina Rodriguez hailed as the breakout star of the season. The common thread that connects the three shows? All are toplined by a minority actor, and two — Black-ish and Jane — are built around non-Caucasian families. Add to that another hot rookie, Scorpion, the top-rated CBS drama in adults 18-49 and second-highest-rated new series behind HTGAWM, whose star Elyes Gabel is not your typical network TV leading man.
Betting on diversity always has been good for networks’ PR — now it is also good for their bottom line.
Both ABC’s HTGAWM and Black-ish are helped by strong lead-ins — Scandal and Modern Family, respectively. Still, HIGAWM has excelled, surpassing Scandal as well as NBC’s The Blacklist to rank as the highest-rated drama on television by a wide margin, averaging a 5.7 rating among adults 18-49 through three weeks of Live+7 numbers. That should be gratifying for star Viola Davis, who recently lamented the marginalizing of darker-skin black actresses like herself who usually are relegated to bit parts in movies and TV.
“I don’t see anyone on TV like me in a role like this,” she said about her starring role on HTGAWM as brash criminal law professor Annalise Keating. “And you can’t even mention Halle Berry or Kerry Washington,” referring to two African-American stars with lighter skin who topline series with largely white casts. Whether HTGAWM is a hit or not depends on viewers’ acceptance of “a woman of color, of a certain age and a certain hue,” Davis said before the show’s launch.
Being unlike anything or anyone else on TV has been paying off this fall, helping such shows as HTGAWM, Black-ish and the CW’s Jane The Virgin as well as ABC’s new Friday entry, Cristela — co-createdby and starring Latina Cristela Alonzo — stand out, and viewers have embraced them.
There had not been a broad comedy about a black family on broadcast television since My Wife And Kids on ABC a decade ago. You easily could mix up the billboards and promos for the slew of new romantic comedies about white couples this fall, but there was little confusion about the colorful posters featuring the all-black cast of Black-ish.
Diversity has helped shows stand out from the clutter and send a clear message this fall in a way spending top marketing dollars can’t.
Let’s hope that the success of HTGAWM, Black-ish, Scorpion and Jane the Virgin convinces the networks that being diverse is good business, so they keep at it. The strong start for the new series headlined by minority actors, some of them exploring minority themes, bodes well for three such series in the wings: Fox’s hip-hop family drama Empire, ABC’s Asian-American family comedy Fresh Off The Boat and NBC’s long-gestating Craig Robinson middle school comedy Mr. Robinson.