ABC sees ‘authenticity’ in fall lineup’s cultural range

posted on July 16, 2014

By Alex Strachan, Vancouver Sun | Link to Article

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — Not diversity. Authenticity.

By Alex Strachan, Vancouver Sun | Link to Article

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — Not diversity. Authenticity.

If there was a lesson to be learned from ABC president Paul Lee’s question-and-answer session this week at the summer meeting of the Television Critics Association, followed by a full day of press conferences for ABC’s new comedies and dramas — all of them featuring culturally diverse casts, and many of which will appear on CTV, Global and City this fall — it’s that racial diversity in TV programs is simply a reflection of life as it’s lived today.

Lee, a former BBC executive who studied Portuguese and Russian at Oxford before developing Latin American telenovelas for BBC in Brazil, helped establish BBC America in 1998. Lee joined ABC in 2004 to run the company’s ABC Family cable channel, and was promoted to ABC network president in 2013. He has overseen a slow but steady shift to programming that features characters from different cultural backgrounds and sexual orientations.

The new sitcom Selfie features a racially mixed couple, played by Doctor Who’s Karen Gillan, originally from Scotland, and Korean-American character actor and musician John Cho, in a social media-oriented reworking of Pygmalion.

Black-ish, a family comedy that will air on City, was developed by writer Kenya Barris and social commentator Larry Wilmore, and revolves around an African-American family determined to embrace middle-class life without losing sight of their cultural heritage. Anthony Anderson and Laurence Fishburne star.

The new sitcom Cristela revolves around Latina standup comedian Cristela Alonzo and focuses on a Mexican-American law school graduate forced to balance family responsibilities — including aging parents — with an unpaid internship at a prominent law firm.

A new drama from the creator of Grey’s Anatomy, How to Get Away with Murder, features an African-American lead actress, Viola Davis, and at least one character who is openly gay. It will air this fall on CTV.

A new midseason comedy, Fresh Off the Boat, features a largely Asian-American cast, Including Constance Wu, Ian Chen and Hudson Yang, and is loosely based on the life of TV chef Eddie Huang and his autobiographical novel Fresh Off the Boat: A Memoir. The new midseason drama American Crime was created by John Ridley, writer of the Academy Award-winning 12 Years a Slave, and revolves around a racially charged murder trial. It will air in midseason on CTV.

ABC is not on a mission to change TV, Lee insisted. He sees it as reflecting society as it is today.

“We think that’s our job,” he said. “It’s not so much diversity as authenticity, if you’re reflecting America. We think these shows are deeply relatable, When I watch Black-ish or when I watch Cristela, I am one of those families.”

Black-ish, Wilmore said, is more about culture than race. 

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