Why I’m Both Anticipating & Dredding the New Television Season That’s Full of Diversity

This week was the annual week that every year the inner TV geek is always eagerly anticipating with both hope and anxiety. That’s right it’s the annual Up-Front presentations where the four big broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC) and smaller networks on both cable and broadcast (The CW, TNT, TBS, USA et. al.) all make their upcoming fall schedule announcements and their big pitches on their new shows for advertisers and in essence the viewing public.

What fascinated me about this year’s crop of new shows was not the umpteenth spinoff of either CSI or NCIS on CBS (or in this case this year we get both, uh yeah?!?) But it was the surprising amount of diversity being offered in this year’s new crop of shows that has me both hopeful and nervous with anticipation.

ABC's new midseason series "Fresh Off the Boat" is the first series to focus on an Asian American family since "All-American Girl" starred comedian Margaret Cho.

ABC’s new midseason series “Fresh Off the Boat” is the first series to focus on an Asian American family since “All-American Girl” starred comedian Margaret Cho.

Looking Back, It Wasn’t Too Long Ago…

Forget the cheese-tastic titles such as Black-ish and Fresh off the Boat. It’s the substance of the show of what’s behind those titles that both excites me and worries me. They have a lot to look up to. Could it have been already thirty years ago this year that The Cosby Show lit up our screens and introduced us to the way a whole new family managed to live their lives with humor and dignity? But Cosby and the Huxtables weren’t the first. In the seventies we got a wide variety of families of a multicultural and economic backgrounds. There was Sanford and SonGood Times and The Jeffersons, just to name a few. All of these shows including the Cosby Show are still being shown in repeats on cable which means to me they still have a long and successful following to this day.

So the question remains what happened since the Cosby Show went off the air in 1992? Why hasn’t there been a truly breakthrough successful sitcom to star a person of color? Sure there’s been multiple attempts and decent runs of shows featuring comedians Margaret Cho, Damon Wayons, Bernie Mac and George Lopez. Not to mention a variety of smaller shows that managed to survive on niche networks like UPN and the WB back in the day. One would probably need a sociologist to give detailed research into why sitcoms and dramas for that matter with people of color as leads have failed to truly catch fire these past two decades and counting.

Comedian Cristela Alonzo will star in her own eponymous sitcom on ABC this fall.

Comedian Cristela Alonzo will star in her own eponymous sitcom on ABC this fall.

What happened? We’re all of the shows attempted just not interesting or funny or popular with a broad spectrum of the American viewing audience? Or did real life just get in the way which forced us all to reexamine our lives and just not watch shows that were not about topics or people that were similar to us? In the early part of this century, I remember the television critics taking over various minority groups that collectively previously bemoaned why there wasn’t a more diversity in the broadcast network’s fall shows. Now the networks are taking the initiative to diversify their own programming without any prompting. It has helped that shows like Scandal and The Mindy Project are taking off both commercially and creatively with female leads of color.

Viola Davis stars in the upcoming drama "How to Get Away with Murder" on ABC.

Viola Davis stars in the upcoming drama “How to Get Away with Murder” on ABC.

Dramas Are a Step Ahead of the Curve

And it’s not just comedies that are taking shape of a more multicultural world. Sure for the past few decades we’ve seen a ton of diverse workplace dramas from L.A. Law to ER showcase a more accurate portrayal of a diverse workforce in America, but very few of the most successful dramas were actually driven by a person of color. That was until Scandal really broke out in its second season for ABC. Now the trend for network television is to feature a number of high profile women in lead roles that are driving storylines like the new drama How to Get Away with Murder featuring two time Oscar® nominee Viola Davis which will air right after Scandal on Thursday nights. Coincidentally Fox has new drama featuring Davis’s Oscar® winning costar in The Help, Octavia Spencer in Red Band Society. CW gets on board with Jane the Virgin starring newcomer Christina Rodriguez about a Latina women who gets accidentally artificially inseminated. I guess there really is a story for everyone. Don’t forget there’s also Fox’s midseason Empire starring Oscar® nominees Terrance Howard and Taraji P. Henson and CBS has Stalker in its bullpen starring Maggie Q.

"Grey's Anatomy" & "Scandal" creator Shonda Rhimes will have a third drama on ABC's Thursday night lineup. This one stars another African American actress, Viola Davis takes the lead in "How to Get Away with Murder."

“Grey’s Anatomy” & “Scandal” creator Shonda Rhimes will have a third drama on ABC’s Thursday night lineup. This one stars another African American actress, Viola Davis takes the lead in “How to Get Away with Murder.”

What I’m Hopeful For This Year

Maybe dramas just are able to easier reflect a broader spectrum of this country’s cultures than comedies can. Perhaps executives became so afraid of becoming too politically incorrect by exploiting our cultural biases and stereotypes when it comes to creating laughs for comedies. Nevertheless I am thankful that networks are putting out shows like Cristela starring Latina comedian Cristela Alzono and Selfie starring actor John Cho. I hope all of these shows succeed, but I fully realize that this is probably not going to happen. Now that the broadcast networks are taking a chance on more people of color in starring roles, I fully believe that there’s nowhere to go but up. I’m filled with anxiety because I fear that all of these shows either tank or actually be successful by following too many stereotypes. I sincerely hope that these shows are filled with plenty of laughs or a lot of high drama in which the actor’s cultural identities aren’t completely put aside but hopefully they can actually enhance the shows and storylines they happen to be in. Hey, when watching television one can live in a fantasy world, why can’t we dream while were there?


Why Stephen Colbert Taking Over “Late Show” Doesn’t Necessarily Wow Me…Right Now That Is

Stephen Colbert welcomes Jimmy Fallon to his new time slot and Tonight Show. Come 2015 they will be time slot rivals for the full hour when Colbert takes over for David Letterman.

Stephen Colbert welcomes Jimmy Fallon to his new time slot and Tonight Show. Come 2015 they will be time slot rivals for the full hour when Colbert takes over for David Letterman.

It was just announced today that Stephen Colbert will be taking over for David Letterman as host of CBS’s Late Show. While Colbert was the early odds on favorite for the hosting gig once Letterman announced his retirement last week. I couldn’t help but meet that announcement with a huge reaction of “Meh.” Karen Valby of Entertainment Weekly summed it up for me as a rather unsurprising pick. But then again Tim Goodman of The Hollywood Reporter says the pick couldn’t be more inspired or better transitioned. Okay Tim, all I have to say to that is be careful what you wish for.

Don’t get me wrong I love Stephen Colbert as a performer, he’s actually a very good actor, with a sensational delivery who can add punch to any zinger especially those one liners that focus on his specialty: current events with a political twist. But the problem for me accepting this is hire is that right now all we know of Colbert is that is he a performer and not a traditional comedian, he’s an actual actor with chops, believe it or not I’ve seen him on an episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent a few years back and he was hamming it up before he really blew up on Comedy Central. We don’t really know how he will fair once he’s out of his “conservative character.” He may become the normal traditional talk show host. Who’s looking forward to that? I have a distinctive feeling he’s not going to be as critical and inquisitive to his guests as he is currently on his show on Comedy Central show. He may be forced to suck up to his guests just like everyone else currently does in late night just to please the suits at CBS.

Perhaps I’m just overanalyzing this, since he is an actor, Colbert will no doubt do skits and will feel free to ham it up galore without any self-awareness. This could go either one of two ways, he’ll hit it out of the ballpark with skit after skit showing his range or he’ll mellow out and become as bland as Jay Leno when he took over the Tonight Show back in 1992. Either way we’re in for something unexpected. And the timeline of Colbert’s contract at Comedy Central clearly implied he was waiting for Letterman to retire after his own one year extension at CBS. The hiring of Colbert also raises the question of how he’ll appeal to younger viewers. His show on Comedy Central appeals to younger males which no doubt makes CBS anticipating big numbers. But right now it’s a fight between the two Jimmy’s: Fallon and Kimmel over who has the most viral buzz and best moments that have people, especially younger people, talking over the water cooler the next morning. Whether or not Colbert can join the social media conversation outside of his “character” remains a question that David Bloom at Deadline Hollywood posted and has serious repercussions in this online media world.

Another reason for trepidation comes from Valby at EW, who brings up the point that she was unpleasantly surprised by the pick because CBS wasn’t thinking outside the box enough by not picking a woman or minority for the hosting gig. She feels someone like Amy Sedaris or Amy Schumer would have been perfect for the job. I do find that reasoning a bit disingenuous because let’s face it CBS wasn’t even considering a woman or minority candidate for this important position. By previous evidence alone, CBS has never been the first place that you would find the most innovation programming decisions. Think back to 2004 when they had a chance to replace Craig Kilborn as the host of The Late Late Show, D.L. Hughley impressed everyone from his tryout that many a comedian and actor was after. But who did they hire after multiple tryouts? Longshot Irishman Craig Ferguson of “The Drew Carey Show” fame, who was not as well known at the time and not as well reviewed during his tryout. CBS took the safest route possible and now may have another problem on replacing Ferguson in the 12:35am slot since he didn’t get the job he’s thought was rightfully his at 11:35pm.

But that’s looking too far in advance. Right now there are a lot of unanswered questions. All we know is Colbert’s writing crew will be going with him and he will get to keep the “Late Show” title. Everything else is up in the air from the venue to production staff since Letterman’s production company Worldwide Pants owns both the name and concept of Late Show and The Late Late Show due to the deal that CBS made to lure Letterman to their network in the first place back in 1994. Colbert is not spring chicken himself, in fact he turns fifty this year, although his age and youthful looks not withstanding he could have a very productive Late Show career that could last as many as fifteen years. Will Colbert have another long and productive career in prime time with more corporate pressure behind him? More than likely he will. Will he make television history with his own slice of primetime broadcast immortality. The odds lean towards yes, but realistically only time will tell on that front. Colbert will have a highly anticipated launch with viewers that will no doubt initially push him to number one in the rankings. Whether or not he can keep them and our interest over the long run remains the biggest question of all.