Battle of Diverse Pilots: How Diverse Are ABC's 2015 Pilots?

Here at COLOR, we are all about TV and movies, but as you have probably seen, there’s a special focus on what television has been putting out. TV is beginning to outpace film in when it comes to diversity and representation. Or is it???

This season, each of the major networks are putting out a slate of shows promising fans lots of new, diverse (or, as Deadline stated, “ethnic”) faces. But how do the networks stack up against each other in the Diversity Wars? I plan to find out by analyzing each of the networks’ pilots (thankfully compiled by The Hollywood Reporter) and seeing how well the demographics are represented. Each network will get a letter grade from me, and after the full process is complete, I’ll take a look at diversity on TV as a whole. Let’s get started with ABC.

The most represented minority demographic: The one that got repped the most in the ABC pilots is black/African diasporic demographic. Out of the 25 shows,  17 shows have black characters. Most notably, shows like Delores and Jermaine and Uncle Buck have mostly or all-black casts. The shows with black characters are as follows:

  • Delores and Jermaine
  • The 46 Percenters
  • The King of 7B
  • Uncle Buck
  • Untitled Judah Miller project
  • Untitled NBA project
  • The Advocate
  • Boom
  • Broad Squad
  • The Catch
  • The Kingmakers
  • LA Crime
  • Kings and Prophets
  • Quantico
  • Runner
  • Family Fortune
  • The Adversaries

Latino characters make up the second largest swath of characters in ABC pilots. Characters from this demographic are featured in six shows:

  • The 46 Percenters
  • Untitled Judah Miller project
  • Untitled Molyneux project
  • LA Crime
  • Mix
  • Original Sin
  • Runner

It is worth noting that while specific characters of mixed race aren’t featured in any of the shows (judging from the pilot’s descriptions), mixed-race actors are represented in seven shows. Those shows are:

  • The Advocate
  • Uncle Buck
  • The Catch
  • Mix
  • Kings and Prophets
  • Original Sin
  • Runner

Most improved representation: ABC can proudly assert that they have increased their stable of Asian characters. Is it the Fresh Off the Boat effect? One could rightly think so. One could also think that it’s also the Empire effect, which has helped make studios wake up and pay attention to the fact that diversity of all types is welcome on television. Asian characters are featured on five shows:

  • Chevy
  • Dr. Ken
  • The Kingmakers
  • Quantico
  • The 46 Percenters

Middle Eastern characters and actors aren’t featured in these pilots enough, though. There are only two characters featuring Middle Eastern characters and actors:

  • Kings and Prophets
  • Quantico

Least represented minority demographic: Native American characters and actors aren’t listed in any of these main cast line-ups. This is the next ceiling that has to be broken in American television across the board, and I’m saying that without having to review the other networks’ pilots to know it’s true. If there are no representative characters of a demographic, it’s an easy way to allow the potency of stereotypes to keep doing their horrible work. That could go into an article all by itself, but I think you get my drift. No education means no attempt to change thoughts about people.

The one ABC pilot with a gay character: The Real O’Neals gets that honor. This is another lacking area for ABC pilots when it comes to its main cast lists. Of course, there’s always the chance that secondary characters could be gay or, since we don’t know all of the characterization of these characters, that someone might not be heterosexual. But as far as characters that are specifically listed as gay, there’s only the one show.

Any bisexual characters?: There are none that are explicitly stated as such, so I don’t know if there are any. But I wouldn’t be surprised if there aren’t any. In general, shows have yet to treat bisexuality as a legitimate sexual expression; they tend to just go the “joke” route with it, or, in the case of women, the “sexually exploitative/they’re only bi for male attention” route.

No transgender characters: That’s a big worry. With so much happening in America (and the world, for that matter), it would be great to see a transgender character (or two or several) on TV as a way to show other trans kids that there characters who can identify with them and their particular struggles.

Even worse, I don’t think ABC has had a transgender character that was a positive influence. I’ve written it like that because Ugly Betty did have a transgender character, Daniel Meade’s sister Alexis (Rebecca Romijn). But, despite the show’s usually entertaining and smart writing, there seemed to be a real disconnect as to how to properly convey a transgender character in comedy without making her the butt of the joke. There’s only so many times you can repeat “I used to be a man” as a comedic quip. Perhaps there will be a character who reveals they are transgender later on in one of these new pilots. But I sincerely doubt it.

Shows not listed: Irreversible is one of the two shows that doesn’t have a diverse cast. It is an American adaptation of Israeli series Bilti Hafich, and currently only stars Justin Long. Untitled Johnny Knoxville project has no minority actors involved. However, these two shows also haven’t finished their casting process, so there’s still time. Also not finished with casting are The Kingmakers and Mix. 

The beige quotient: At the risk of sounding non-PC, everyone familiar with entertainment and casting practices knows that every year, there are people who are hired because they look of some origin but no one knows what that that origin is. This year, Simone Kessell (Kings and Prophets) and Jason Antoon (The 46 Percenters) make up that quotient for ABC.

Overall notes: I’d say that ABC did fairly well this pilot season. Empire did help all minorities get noticed by studios, but, of course, I think studio heads are also still using a bit of “studio logic.” That is, since Empire, a show starring black people, is doing extremely well for itself, black people are now viewed as en vogue, so they’ll greenlight tons of shows with a large black presence on it. I think that explains why there are tons of black shows this time around. They’re so eager for black shows, they’ve even signed off on Uncle Buck, which is, technically, a racebent show (originally, it was a John Hughes movie starring John Candy). I’m not knocking Uncle Buck or any of these shows; I’m just saying that studios are doing their “studio logic” a little bit when it comes to Empire‘s success.

I’m glad that the success of Fresh Off the Boat has also paved the way for Dr. Ken, starring Ken Jeong. I’m excited to see what he’ll bring to the network. Let’s hope there’ll be more Asian-led shows coming to ABC in the coming years.

The severe lack of Native American characters is indicative of the mindset America in general has about Native Americans; it’s the idea that they don’t exist. Studios need to wake up to the fact that they do exist. There needs to be fair representation for them. Ditto that with representing diversity in sexuality and gender expression. There’s got to be more in these areas.

Final grade: B.  At first glance, ABC was burgeoning on a B+, but the lack of transgender, gay, lesbian and bi characters, as well as the lack of Native American characters, leaves a lot to be desired. But ABC is on the right track; it just needs to punch things up a bit.

What are your thoughts on ABC’s pilots?