ABC puts focus on diversity in fall lineup



BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — ABC is taking a bold step this fall to diversify prime-time television by prominently showcasing African-Americans, Latinos and other minorities on a scale never before seen on a major network.

The broadcast networks have traditionally cast white actors in lead roles, calculating that they would help boost a show’s chances of success in the ratings and international sales. Not only that, but the creative team behind the camera has also been typically white as well.

But those traditional biases are fading, Paul Lee, ABC’s entertainment president, said Tuesday during ABC’s presentation at the Television Critics Association summer press tour in Beverly Hills.

“America doesn’t look like that anymore,” said Lee, a native of Britain. “When I came here, I wanted to find shows that reflected America. That’s our job.”

Shows with all-white casts “feel dated,” added Lee.

It was the blockbuster success of writer-producer Shonda Rhimes’ hit, “Scandal,” starring Kerry Washington, that paved the way for this season’s changes. The drama, which launched in midseason two years ago, demonstrated that America would embrace a show starring an African-American woman.

Add to that ABC’s hit comedy “Modern Family,” which features a gay couple who just got married and the marriage of a crusty white guy and his much-younger Latina wife. The popular sitcom soared in the ratings, proving that TV viewers would find humor in subject matter that was usually off-limits on mainstream TV.

The Walt Disney Co.-owned network’s big bet for this fall is another drama executive-produced by Rhimes called “How to Get Away With Murder.”

Critically acclaimed film star Viola Davis headlines the drama as a tough and morally complex university law professor teaching students how to defend criminals. “How to Get Away With Murder” is scheduled to run on Thursday nights, paired with Rhimes’ other two hits, “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Scandal.”