Grading The Five Networks on Fall TV Diversity
Diverse representation is still an issue in Hollywood, and possibly television as well. September means the arrival of the fall television season, and some networks are better than others at bringing diverse representation to the screen.
Television’s five major networks (NBC, ABC, CBS, FOX and CW) will be graded on how diverse the main casts of every show in their fall lineups are. These figures only account for starring roles for the upcoming fall television season, and do not include recurring roles, guest roles, or non-returning cast members of previous seasons.
As of the 2015, the United States census revealed that 61.6 percent of the American population is non-Hispanic white. That means that approximately 38.4 percent of the American population is of color. In order to realistically portray diversity on screen, networks should strive to feature around that percentage of people of color in their casts.
See which network ranks the highest (and lowest) below:
Overall grade: B-
Number of diverse cast members out of total cast members: 41 out of 107
Percentage of diversity: 38.3 percent (0.1 percent under realistic representation)
Number of shows with diverse lead roles: 1 out of 11 – 9 percent. (Not including The Voice or Saturday Night Live, which have no lead roles.)
NBC has its strengths and weaknesses. Where the network loses the most points here is from screening only one show that features a minority in a lead role. It has the second highest overall average of diverse representation of the five networks, pulling a near-perfect representation ratio. Still, with Superstore’s America Ferrera being the only actor of color to lead a show on the network, a measly 9 percent of its shows are lead by a person of color. That figure is much less than super.
Despite the lack of leads, the network distributes diverse roles across all of its shows, contributing to its stellar diversity percentage. Primetime hits Blindspot and Superstore both include four actors of color in their seven-person casts. Overall a score of B- isn’t too bad, but reflects the progress the network could make in casting more diverse lead roles.
Overall grade: F
Number of diverse cast members out of total cast members: 54 out of 186
Percentage of diversity: 29 percent (9.4 percent under realistic representation)
Number of shows with diverse lead roles: 1 out of 22 – 4.5 percent. (Not including Survivor which has no lead role.)
Yikes. CBS president Glenn Geller himself already apologized for lack of diversity in its fall lineup, but we didn’t realize it was this bad. Falling 9.4 percent below realistic representation, CBS has the lowest ratio of the five networks – by a lot. It also has the lowest percentage of shows with a diverse lead role, despite having the most shows to give diverse roles to.
To give the network some credit, its upcoming legal drama Doubt will feature network television’s first transgender role played by a transgender person, which is a major step in the right direction for both the network and the transgender community. Laverne Cox will play an Ivy League educated lawyer when the show premiers on an unannounced date this season.
While this is definitely a step forward, the numbers don’t lie, and CBS is the clear loser of the five networks. Shows with large ensembles like The Big Bang Theory and upcoming Kevin Can Wait and Life in Pieces feature only one minority each on their 10 or 11-person casts. Hawaii Five-0 is the channel’s most diverse show with five out of seven of the main cast being diverse, and the upcoming McGyver reboot features three minorities in its cast of five. Despite these programs, CBS receives an F for the season.
Overall grade: B
Number of diverse cast members out of total cast members: 58 out of 169
Percentage of diversity: 34.3 percent (4.1 percent under realistic representation)
Number of shows with diverse lead roles: 5 out of 19 – 26.3 percent. (Not including Shark Tank or Dancing with the Stars, which have no lead roles.)
ABC gets the edge over NBC to be the second highest-graded network despite having 4 percent less representation. This network features Black-ish and Fresh off the Boat, two of network television’s only shows that feature a full minority family. Black-ish is the only network show other than FOX’s Empire to feature an entirely black cast. Fresh off the Boat and Dr. Ken, also on ABC, are the only two network shows to feature Asian lead roles, with the former starring an Asian family of five and their friend, played by a white actress.
ABC also features shows with entirely or almost entirely white casts, which lower the average 4 percentage points short. Family-centered shows like The Middle, The Real O’Neals and The Goldbergs feature entirely white casts. While shows that focus on one family (regardless of race) are relatable and important to broadcast, the amount featuring solely white families ultimately brings the diversity average below realistic representation. The percentage isn’t helped by ensemble shows like Once Upon a Time, which features no non-white actors in its 10-person main cast.
The network strikes a perfect balance between family-centered shows and diverse casts with Modern Family, its Emmy-darling sitcom. Featuring an extended family spread across three households, Sofía Vergara plays a Colombian woman who marries into the family with her son, played by Rico Rodriguez, and also features an adopted Asian girl played by Aubrey Anderson-Emmons. The show centers around a family and features a diverse ensemble, playing to both of the network’s strengths. Because of ABC’s commitment to portraying a wide variety of American families, the network walks away with a solid B rating.
Overall grade: D
Number of diverse cast members out of total cast members: 23 out of 72
Percentage of diversity: 31.9 percent (6.5 percent below realistic representation)
Number of shows with diverse lead roles: 1 out of 10 – 10 percent.
While not as behind the curve as CBS, the CW still has a lot of room for improvement before it catches up to the other three networks. The superhero-packed network has introduced many new diverse roles this fall season, but would do well to power up its roster.
Jane the Virgin is the network’s only show with a diverse lead, with Gina Rodriguez helming the cast. Shows like Supernatural and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow bring down the average, with the former’s small cast featuring no minorities, and the latter only representing two in its cast of 11. Definitely the smallest network of the bunch, CW is proportionately only ahead of CBS in terms of diversity, and well below the goal, earning it a lackluster D rating.
Overall grade: A
Number of diverse cast members out of total cast members: 44 out of 113
Percentage of diversity: 38.9 percent (0.5 percent above realistic representation)
Number of shows with diverse lead roles: 4 out of 12 – 33.3 percent. (Not including Hell’s Kitchen, which does not have a lead role.)
We have a winner. FOX not only achieves the realistic representation percentage, but exceeds it, proving its commitment to telling diverse stories on screen. It proportionately features the highest percentage of diverse lead roles as well, with one-third of its lineup being lead by an actor or actress of color. Considering it’s the network that airs the game-changing Empire and has assigned diverse lead roles to a good portion of its new shows, it’s A rating is well-earned.
Nine of Empire’s 10-person cast is of color, including leads Taraji P. Henson and Terrence Howard. Newcomers Pitch and Lethal Weapons are lead by Kylie Bunbury and Damon Wayans, while returning police procedural Rosewood is a Morris Chestnut vehicle. Only ABC comes close to matching the number of diverse lead roles the network features.
The network succeeds by making sure every program in its lineup is well-represented, as opposed to ABC’s strategy of dividing representation between shows. Only three of the 13 show lineup features less than two minorities, and each of those shows has small 5 or 6-person casts. Overall, FOX is the clear leader in terms of diversity on screen.