Television today is more diverse than it has ever been, which is simultaneously very encouraging and very frustrating considering just how underrepresented women, people of color, people with disabilities, and LGBTQ people continue to be. But it looks like when it comes to TV cancelations this year, diverse shows may be a bit overrepresented.
Every May, at the close of the traditional television season, TV networks, and now streaming services, get down to brass tacks and figure out which shows made the cut and which shows get cut. This year, shows like Last Man Standing, The Odd Couple, and Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders (idk) got canned, but as Maureen Ryan at Variety points out, a number of shows featuring diverse casts were also axed.
Underground, Sense8, Pitch, Rosewood, The Get Down, East Los High, Sweet/Vicious, American Crime, Dr. Ken, The Real O’Neals, Powerless, and if you want to count it, Sleepy Hollow (which caught a lot of flak for undermining its own diverse cast). Sure, shows getting canceled is part of the television ecosystem—like a forest fire renewing the soil—and some of these shows weren’t great: The Real O’Neals was a clear attempt to pander to a diverse audience using a tired formula as opposed to telling a more authentic story.
Still, dropping some of the few shows that are out here changing the landscape of television with diversity behind and in front of the camera isn’t exactly a great sign. As Ryan writes:
Hollywood is way too quick to pat itself on the back for the smallest and most overdue steps forward when it comes to diversity, inclusion and representation — and the industry is far, far too quick to let the backsliding begin. And when that backsliding does begin (as it has many times in the past), many who mouth easy platitudes — instead of doing the real work of increasing the diversity of the industry — very easily and even reflexively turn a blind eye to the return to the status quo.
While the television (and film) industry loves to rally behind the cause of inclusion, they’re also very quick to shrug and say, “Welp, we tried!” when diverse shows go the way of the vast majority of other shows. It reduces the representation of actual people to ratings. And puts an immense amount of pressure on shows that do feature characters of color or LGBTQ characters or characters with disabilities to be the be-all and end-all for diverse television, essentially tokenizing them.
It also contributes to the baseless logical vacuum that if one diverse show doesn’t work, then it somehow proves that inclusion isn’t worth pursuing, that any form of diversity is a risk. It’s the refrain that we’ve seen just this week with the Hollywood Reporter deeming Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins “a gamble” because she’s a woman. And it’s part of the reason why Fresh of the Boat gave us the first Asian family on television since 1994, when Margaret Cho’s All-American Girl flopped.
So yes, a television show getting canceled is just another day in Hollywood, and there are still several shows that are authentically representing people who aren’t straight, able-bodied, white dudes (obviously not enough, particularly when it comes to disabled representation). Perhaps these time slots will be filled with even better, representative television, but it certainly feels like there’s more at stake when a diverse show gets dropped. Best case scenario, it really could just be ratings, but also, it could be the television industry pulling a “my best friend/fave show is black/Atlanta!!!” to undermine other diverse shows.