Small screen: ABC, Netflix promote women of color; Issa Rae is still Insecure
Women have taken over television this week. Amidst ongoing outcries for diversity in film and television, two networks may have made positive strides in the right direction this week. ABC and Netflix promoted two women of color into prominent leadership roles overseeing content being produced. Meanwhile, Issa Rae has gone from Awkward to Insecure, OWN had its best ratings quarter yet, and Laverne Cox keeps dominating everything. For these stories and more, read on:
Network: Jamila Hunter was promoted to the Senior Vice President of Comedy at ABC. Hunter will oversee the production of all pilots for the broadcast network’s comedy department. Hunter has previously overseen development of Fresh off the Boat, Black-ish and The Real O’Neals, all successful family comedies entering their second or third seasons. Before signing at ABC, Hunter worked in comedy at NBC, FOX and OWN. ABC already benefited from several of her shows in our network diversity ranking.
2016 is the year of Laverne Cox. The actress inked a deal with talent agency ICM Partners amidst a very successful year for her career. Soon she will be the first-ever transgender person to play a transgender character on network television when CBS’s legal drama Doubt airs midseason. Starting her career with Netflix’s smash hit Orange is the New Black, Cox will next play Dr. Frank-N-Furter in FOX’s remake of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
A familiar face is returning to The Days of Our Lives. Vanessa Williams, who played Dr. Valerie Grant, is returning to NBC’s soap opera to reprise her infamous role from the 1970s. Back then, Williams’ character was one half of an interracial couple, a groundbreaking story subject at the time. Her character will return to Salem to reunite with her old romantic interest Abe Carver (James Reynolds). Williams’ other works includes a recent stint on CW’s The Flash and a lead role in TV One’s The Secret She Kept. Her return will air October 25.
Tyrese Gibson is speeding over to FOX. The Fast & Furious star will appear in Lee Daniel’s upcoming musical series Star. Gibson will play a love interest in a recurring role opposite Queen Latifah as an ex-thug who has turned his life over to God. Following FOX’s musical trend a la Empire and Glee, the 2017 show will feature original music, following three rising stars desperate for success. This is Gibson’s most significant television role to date.
Cable: Issa Rae’s transition from Internet to cable was anything but awkward. The star’s new HBO half-hour comedy Insecure, based on her popular web series The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, aired Sunday. In her web series, Rae starred as a woman living through comedic, every-day awkward social situations. “Black people are always portrayed as being cool or overdramatic,” Rae said. “Anything but awkward.” After one failed attempt, Rae’s show was greenlit by HBO, about her character Issa reevaluating her relationship and career before she turns 30. The show received unanimous approval from critics and drew over a million viewers in an early premier.
Jay Z is working with The Weinstein Company to produce a docu-series about the case of Kalief Browder for Spike. At the age of 16, Browder was detained and put in solitary confinement for a crime (stealing a backpack) he never had a hearing for. He committed suicide in 2015 after suffering abuse from jail guards for three years. Titled Time: The Kalief Browder Story, the six-part series will contain interviews, real life footage and re-enactments to tell Bowder’s story. The series will broadcast in 2017.
The Oprah Winfrey Network delivered its highest-rated and ranked quarter in the network’s history in Q3 of 2016. The network averaged a muscular 0.43 rating in its key women 25-54 demo, up 9 percent from this quarter last year. Its success is thanks to shows Greenleaf and Queen Sugar, both of which are among the top three new scripted cable programs for women this year. Tyler Perry’s two series, If Loving You is Wrong and The Haves and the Have Nots, were the most-watched series among African American viewers in prime time slots.
Speaking of Queen Sugar, former Nashville executive producer Monica Macer will serve as EP and showrunner for the drama’s second season. The second season, which was renewed for a before the first episode even aired, will take less direction from Ava DuVernay as she steps aside to direct A Wrinkle in Time. Macer has previously worked on VH1’s The Breaks, FOX’s Prison Break and ABC’s Lost.
Online: Jamila Hunter wasn’t the only woman of color to get a promotion. Bela Bajaria, Universal Television’s ex-president, joined Netflix as vice president of content. Bajaria, who left Universal four months ago amidst a dwindling number of series pickups, was known for outputting a strong comedy roster during her time at Universal. At Netflix, she will be in charge of the TV and film licensing team, and will also be in charge of developing original unscripted content for the streaming service. Bajaria previously developed Aziz Ansari’s Emmy-nominated Master of None and helped shift the also nominated Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt from NBC to Netflix.
Anjelika Washington and David Castaneda are heading to the Las Vegas strip. The duo has been cast opposite John Hawkes in Amazon’s comedy pilot The Legend of Master Legend. Directed by James Ponsoldt, the show will center on a man trying to prevent evildoing in Vegas. Washington (If Only You Could Be You) plays a tomboy and daughter of Frank and Tana. Castaneda (End of Watch, Jane the Virgin) will play a softie cop.