Diane Haithman is contributing to Deadline’s TCA coverage.
Last summer, mega-producer Shonda Rhimes took to Twitter to criticize Bunheads executive producer Amy Sherman-Palladino for a perceived lack of diversity in the Bunheads cast. The ABC Family show is set in a small-town ballet studio. The first of 8 new episodes aired Monday.
The Rhimes tweet: “Hey@abcfbunheads: really? You couldn’t cast even ONE young dancer of color so I could feel good about my kids watching this show? Not ONE?”
After today’s TCA panel on Bunheads, the always-outspoken Sherman-Palladino said there are no planned cast changes or additions to the list of major characters on the show to add diversity in response to Rhimes’ criticisms (Rhimes later backtracked a little on her tweet, saying that she didn’t object to her kids watching shows with white actors and praising Bunheads for showing girls of diverse body types).
“No because everybody’s not white,” said Sherman-Palladino to question of cast additions. She said that, for dance class members, the show borrows from the Marat Daukayev School at the Dance Arts Academy in Hollywood, which includes a diverse group of dancers. “When I went to class, it could have been white sheets, Aryan nation. Ballet was a white, white world. This class is not like that.”
Sherman-Palladino said that diversity is important to Bunheads and should be a goal of TV in general, but she said such criticism is frustrating to her since she has tried — and failed — to launch projects with minority leads. She cited wanting to do a series with black actress Regina King, “who is untapped comedy gold,” but not being able to sell it.
“Look, the weird thing about diversity is, you’ll get these [network] notes like, ‘this person is diverse,’ and I’m like: ‘Really, because they live next door to a Chinese restaurant? ‘ “ Sherman-Palladino said. “I know the networks are under a lot of pressure to do that, I think that’s a good thing. But being a writer who has gone in and tried to pitch shows for diverse actors and not being able to sell them, the pressure cannot just be on us to [cast] diverse actors, you have to develop those shows. Why is there no Cosby Show? “
Sherman-Palladino acknowledged that she is frustrated to be criticized after attempting to sell shows with minority leads but added with a shrug: “But what are you going to do, get into a pissing match on Twitter?”
On the panel, where she was joined by cast members including lead Sutton Foster, Sherman-Palladino also fielded a question that criticized the show for moving slowly, plot wise. The questioner said the show’s first 10 episodes contained a lot of “wasted time.”
Said Sherman-Palladino, who is also creator of Gilmore Girls: “Television has changed. I’m an old, tired broad. I do my thing. On Gilmore Girls we had very simple pacing, 3 acts and a teaser. [Bunheads] is 6 acts and a teaser. More plot is now pushed into shows. “ She said that, in comedy pitch meetings, network or studio executives always say they want the next Roseanne or Cheers but they really want a more accelerated pace.
“If you burn through all of your plot points in one episode, how do you get 5 years out of a show?” she said. “Longevity is important to someone with my Nieman’s bills.”
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