Small screen: Queen Sugar and Atlanta premier; diverse shows coming to networks

The fall television season officially arrived with the premiers of Queen Sugar and Atlanta. The shows, vehicles for Ava DuVernay and Donald Glover respectively, have a lot of buzz surrounding their premiers, but did they live up to the hype? Also on the docket this week, networks are already selecting pilots for the 2017 fall season, including a mixed family sitcom and the fist minority-lead superhero show. For these stories and more, read on: 

Fall premiers: Queen Sugar may prove itself to be cable television royalty. Ava DuVernay’s southern drama premiered on OWN September 7 with an hour that immediately established the grace with which she tells her characters’ stories. The show is DuVernay’s first small screen venture, continuing the momentum she built with Selma, for which she was the first African American woman to have her film nominated for the Best Picture Academy Award.

Her talent is evident here. The series opens with a trance-like sequence set to Meshell Ndegeocello’s Faithful that introduces Nova Borderlon, a journalist played by Rutina Wesley, having an affair with a married man. After a family tragedy, Nova is brought back together with her two siblings; Charley, married to an unfaithful basketball player in New York City played by Dawn-Lyen Gardner; and Ralph Angel, a newly single dad we first see robbing a store to provide for his son Blue. The show’s first two installments aired consecutive nights and did a good job at characterizing its sizable cast. No time was wasted getting to the drama; halfway through the first episode, Charley storms a basketball court mid-game to confront her husband about an incriminating video that leaked online, then moves down south to pick up the pieces of her life. That’s just one example.

There’s a lot to come in the show, and the ratings are backing it. Its premier is the second-best debut in the network’s five years, pulling 2.69 million viewers. It landed a 0.7 rating in the 18-49 demo, but a 1.9 for its core demo of women 25-54. The follow-up episode scored 2.14 million viewers, the best second night ratings the network has seen. The premier was boosted by lead-in The Have and the Have Nots, but lags behind the summer premier of drama Green Leaf, starring Oprah Winfrey. Still, if viewership and reception remain steady, Sugar may grow into a cable queen.

FX is moving down south, too. Donald Glover’s Atlanta premiered September 6 to 1.1 million viewers, then 0.96 for its second episode. The half hour comedy-drama follows Glover’s character Earnest (nicknamed Earn), who tries to become his cousin’s manager as his rap career under pseudonym Paperboy hits mainstream. The show is currently outpacing Baskets, the channel’s January premier that became the most-watched scripted cable comedy in two years. Carrying a 0.5 for the 18-49, Atlanta could be another Basket case for the network.

The show plays with Glover’s irreverent, socially awkward humor reminiscent of Louis C K. Through his own volition, Earn finds himself in bizarre situations – the second episode has him sitting in jail, for instance, after hallucinating about a man trying to feed him a sandwich on the bus in the first. Crazy things happen to Earn while he passively watches the insanity unfold – that’s where most of the shows chuckle-worthy humor derives from.

It’s not all light, though. The show has genuine heart and somehow already feels like an established television entity. That’s hard to do with less than an hour of material released so far. Humor is its strong suit so far, but on the dramatic side, the very first scene of the first episode did end with gunfire. There’s a sense Glover has a lot left in his arsenal to show us as the season continues. That’s the mark of good television.

Network: The duo behind Fresh off the Boat is docking at Philadelphia. Kourtney Kang and Nahnatchka Khan (the latter of whom is the showrunner for Boat) landed a family comedy pilot for NBC about a mixed race family. Drawing inspiration from Kang’s own life, the show will center around the only girl growing up in the only mixed race family in the Philly suburbs. Fred Savage (actor in The Wonder Years and more recently The Grinder) will direct, while Kang writes the script and executive producers with Khan.

FOX has nabbed Mara Brock Akil’s black DC superhero pilot Black Lightning. The show will follow Jefferson Pierce as he resumes his electrical vigilante persona that he tried to leave behind to protect his daughter. The deal comes lightning fast after Brock Akil sold romantic comedy Documenting Love to ABC. If picked up for a full season, the show could further FOX’s diverse lineup.

NBA icon LeBron James is further expanding his television portfolio. The Survivor’s Remorse EP is producing a sports medicine drama for NBC, Hollywood Reporter learned. This marks his company SpringHill Entertainment’s first scripted sale to a broadcast network. The show will follow a doctor treating the world’s greatest athletes who rethinks his approach to medicine after experiencing a health crisis himself.

Cable: The Directors Guild of America issued a report September 12 showing that there was little year-to-year growth of the amount of television episodes directed by a woman or minority. Minorities directed 19 percent and women directed 17 percent of the 4,000+ episodes produced last season, a one percent increase for both categories. “These numbers shine a light on the lack of real progress by employers in this industry, plain and simple,” said Paris Barclay, the guild’s president. A notable exception is Queen Sugar, which will feature all-female directors.

Martha Stewart and Snoop Dogg’s upcoming cooking show has concocted quite a guest list. The gourmet list includes DJ Khaled, 50 Cent, Robin Thicke, Keke Palmer, Bella Thorne and more for Martha & Snoop’s Potluck Dinner Party, to air on VH1 this fall. As if we needed another reason to schedule this into our DVRs.