*The Hollywood Reporter’s Nellie Andreeva has written a piece detailing an unprecedented boost in diversity among drama pilots targeted for the fall.
“Halfway through the castings of broadcast drama pilots this season, the top-billed actors on four pilots are non-Caucasian,” Andreeva writes. “What’s more, the four projects are among the highest-profile drama pilots this year.
The spy couple at the center of J.J. Abrams’ “Undercovers” for NBC is played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Boris Kodjoe. Forest Whitaker is the lead on CBS’ “Criminal Minds” spinoff; Laz Alonso tops the Fox action-drama “Breakout Kings,” directed and exec produced by Gavin Hood; and Freddy Rodriguez headlines CBS’ CIA drama “Chaos,” directed and executive produced by Brett Ratner.
Last year’s crop of broadcast pilots included only one fronted by a minority actor, the LL Cool J starrer “NCIS: Los Angeles.” The season before that, there were no pilots led by minorities.
But whether it’s the Obama effect or any other reason, the tide seems to have turned during the past year.
“NCIS: LA” has been a runaway success, becoming the first major hit drama series toplined by a black actor, and CBS replaced iconic “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” star William Petersen with Laurence Fishburne.
And in cable, where there hadn’t been a drama toplined by a black actor since the departure of HBO’s “The Wire,” Jada Pinkett Smith was tapped as the lead of TNT’s medical drama “Hawthorne,” which has been renewed for a second season.
By setting black actors as leads in its three biggest crime franchises — “CSI” (Fishburne), “NCIS” (LL Cool J) and “Criminal Minds” (Whitaker) — as well as shepherding the Dennis Haysbert-starring war drama “The Unit” for four seasons, CBS has been at the forefront of the trend of putting minority actors in charge of drama series.
The network is also behind two of the four drama pilots that already have tapped minority leads: the “Criminal Minds” spinoff and “Chaos.”
“Diversity is top of mind for us every pilot season,” CBS head of casting Peter Golden said. “It’s still very early in the development process, but we’re excited about diverse roles we have on the page and the performers cast for the screen.”
Black comedians have a strong tradition on TV, and viewers have had no problem embracing comedy series with black leads. But dramas offer a different dynamic and require a larger degree of relatability, which makes it harder for white audiences to accept an ethnic show, TV historian Tim Brooks said.
Continue reading the Hollywood Reporter article here.