It’s the age old question – or fine, it’s not, but it’s at least the new question being asked every year, without fault, as we look at what Pilots get made, what gets ordered to series, what is given full season orders, and later, not just what gets renewed, but what gets promoted.
Why are diverse shows the first to get axed?
The question has a lot of caveats – a lot of them, so I’m just going to go over some of the most obvious ones. My intent is not to give all the answers, for I don’t have them, my intent is to open up a conversation. And let’s be clear – a conversation needs to be not just started, but kept up, consistently, over the course of the year, if we are ever to reverse this trend.
Before we go into this, let’s dispense with the notion that diverse shows get axed because not enough people watch them. On TV, it’s never that simple. Sure, the ratings for Pitch weren’t stellar, but Pitch was also given one of the toughest time slots on TV (against Shondaland AND Thursday Night Football, which would presumably split the people who actually cared to watch a sports-related show), it was also given very little promotion, particularly during sporting events like the World Series.
So, yes, Pitch had so-so ratings, but when a show’s ratings are not as great, it’s time to ask a second question – Why? Is it because the show is that bad, or is it because the network just didn’t trust the show and therefore did not promote it enough?
Ah. Feels like we’re getting somewhere now, doesn’t it?
Pitch, is, sadly, not the only example we can use. Let’s talk Sweet/Vicious, a remarkable, poignant and current show that I only learned about because my fellow Fangirlish writers had the chance to screen the pilot last year at NYCC, and a show that got so little promotion that the typical response I got when I recced it to people online was: “Huh? What’s that?” or “I thought MTV’s only scripted show was Teen Wolf.”
Well, it now is. But it wasn’t before.
Conclusion: diverse shows don’t, in general, get as much promotion. It’s not a hard rule, but it is a trend, and to ignore it is to fall into the same kind of mindset that has allowed us to get to where we are right now.
But – that doesn’t mean diverse shows aren’t beloved or that people aren’t talking about them. Take Timeless, for example, and you’re probably thinking, that show has two white main characters, what’s so diverse about it? If you are, then you’ve probably never seen Timeless and you need to stop reading this and go fix that right now. When you do, you’ll understand.
Yes, Timeless has two white main characters, but it has one POC in the main trio and 3 POC, including two women among the rest of the cast, which shouldn’t even be something that earns them points, it should be common place.
However, it isn’t, so points for Timeless. Go watch, while I go back to my point which was – Timeless was canceled by NBC and then, in a surprising move, un-cancelled, at least, in part, by the strong fan reaction to its cancelation.
Conclusion: Diverse shows can create buzz, they can amass a loyal following, and if the time slots and promotion went hand to hand with the quality of the writing (which is high), they could be hits.
They just need a little help.
But – some people will argue, most shows don’t need help. Some shows you can throw anywhere and they’ll thrive! To which I ask – what show? Maybe Game of Thrones as it exists today, but the first episode of Game of Thrones drew around 2 million viewers in the US and the show has only grown in hype and fans thanks to a concerted effort by not just HBO but GRR Martin to promote it.
It’s almost like promotion works.
Yes, I know. This is a mind-blowing revelation. I’m going to give you some time to process it.
All good now? Okay, let’s continue with another, even more complicated issue than the two previous ones: the type of diverse shows that are getting made, and whether that diversity, when it exists, is just in front of the camera, or if it extends to behind the camera and the writer’s room.
We, after all, now live in the post-Wonder Woman age, and most people understand the difference between presenting a female story, for example, from the male POV vs. the female POV. But, if we go to TV, how often is the diversity we’re getting to see translated to diversity BTS?
The answer is probably not surprising – not often. I was tremendously pleased when I realized, for example, that the new adaptation Anne With An E, which tells the story of a girl, was, in the most part, directed and written by women, because – how could a man tell a girl’s story?
In the same way, how can we expect a white person to tell a POC story and do it justice, or a straight person to tell a LGBTQIA story and even get close to presenting the feelings of a marginalized community?
Answer is simple – we can’t.
Conclusion: We will never truly get the diverse stories we want, the ones we need, until TV becomes more inclusive, not just for diverse actors, but for diverse writers, directors, producers and pretty much everyone who works BTS of a TV show.
So, why are diverse shows the first to get axed? Because it’s easier. Easier than changing a whole culture. Easier than taking a chance. Just, easier.
That’s why it’s our job to be loud, to stop watching TV when we don’t enjoy it, to stop throwing our money into conventions and/or merchandise if the shows being put on the screen are not to our liking, to hold networks accountable. We might not get all of our favorites back, it might take a while, and we might feel like we’re shouting into the void, but it’s either that or staying quiet and just letting things happen.
And that’s never the solution. It’s always just part of the problem.