*The good fortune of Fox’s “Empire” and ABC’s “black-ish” and “How to Get Away With Murder” has given way to a new wave of diversity that’s making Hollywood take notice.
Los Angeles Times writer Meredith Blake highlights “Empire” while exploring the impact of shows with African-American leads. The series, which stars Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson, is among the standouts of the 2014-15 TV season with a steady growth in viewers each week due to strong word of mouth and a noticeable presence on social media.
With its most recent airing on Wednesday night, “Empire”’s viewership grew nearly 15% to 11.3 million. It currently ranks in the top 10 of Nielsen’s Twitter TV ratings.
While “Empire” is TV’s most watched new drama and “black-ish” is the most watched new comedy, the power of black viewers is on full displayed.
“[The success of these shows] says that black people watch TV,” ”Empire” co-creator Lee Daniels said in an email to Blake. “Not only watching, but we are coming out in droves to watch. We also go to the movies and to the theater, especially if we can identify with the subject matter and the people that we see.”
Social media among black viewers was also noted by Blake, who noted how young African-Americans are “unusually heavy users of Twitter,” which “has helped shows like “Empire” and “How to Get Away With Murder” become appointment viewing — the kinds of shows that not only must be watched, but also must be watched in real time.”
Blake also cited the cancellation of the 2010 series “Undercovers” after barely a month on the air as evidence of networks’ reluctance in featuring dramas with casts comprised primarily of African-Americans, with only a rare exception every so often.
“I think that was a cautionary tale,” said Darnell Hunt, director of the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA. “A lot of people who had been cynical about the industry said, ‘Well, that’s the last time they’re going to try a network drama with African American leads.'”
Blake’s story goes on to point out the support of black viewers being prominent with popular cable shows like Bravo’s “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” or OWN’s “The Haves and the Have Nots,” in addition to Lifetime’s recent Whitney Houston biopic “Whitney” and Netflix’s “Orange is the New Black. As a result, Blake mentioned that the success of these shows have “shown there is an appetite for African American melodrama — be it real or scripted.”
“The migration of talent is likely to continue as broadcast’s diversity push intensifies in 2015,” Blake stated in her story while referencing ABC’s new series “Fresh Off the Boat,” the March premiere of its drama “American Crime,” from “12 Years a Slave” screenwriter John Ridley and planned offerings from the other networks.
“We’re seeing things move in the right direction, and it only makes business sense,” Charles King, the founder of Macro, a multicultural media company, told Blake. “It’s not that it’s the right thing to do, but that it’s the smart thing to do.”
To read Meredith Blake’s entire LA Times article on the current impact of diversity on TV, click here.