Beginning today, TVWriter™ brings you Suzanne Chan’s four-part analysis of diversity, or the lack of it, on our television screens. We know it’s early Monday morning, but if you feel like doing some serious thinking, here’s a good place to start:
by Suzanne Chan
Any given episode of a television show is composed of many different elements: the writing, the casting, the directing, the acting, the production details, the post-production work, to name a few. Consequently, there are many elements to which a viewer can pay attention. Some elements might stand out more than others. Some might work better than others. Television isn’t an exact science, but the best television shows are experiments that work, or mostly so.
Recently, a friend recently starting sharing some nostalgic photos of 1970s shows on Facebook. I’d forgotten how white and blonde they were: The Hardy Boys, The Bionic Woman, the women of The Brady Bunch. It was as if you couldn’t possibly be on television if you weren’t blonde. ABC even cast the blonde Cathy Lee Crosby as Wonder Woman in a TV movie. (A week after this epiphany, I got to the part in Tina Fey’s audiobook, Bossypants, where she made the same observation: “Can you remember a time when pop culture was so white that Jaclyn Smith was the chocolate?”)
This demographic depigmentization (to say nothing of deculturalization) of television characters didn’t actually stop me from loving the heck out of some of these shows — but then again, neither did the ropy writing of The Love Boat.
That remains true now. Mainstream television is still generally deficient in portraying women, and worse in portraying characters of minority ethnicities and sexual orientations. My approach is to note these deficiencies, just as I do deficiencies in writing, acting, directing, etc. If the show makes me wonder what will happen next, I’ll continue watching it. If it doesn’t, I won’t.
In that spirit, I’d like to discuss four shows that I recently fell in love with for their premise, overall writing, and visual style. Two are to be celebrated for their diversity. Two could do better.