Pilot Season: Network Casts Gain Diversity

Michael Pena Nicole Beharie - H 2013
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Michael Pena Nicole Beharie - H 2013

From Michael Pena and Ramon Rodriguez to Sung Kang and RZA, the tide is turning, a Fox casting exec tells THR: "It's becoming less about filling a quota and more about why this person is amazing."

This story first appeared in the March 15 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

As TV pilot casting ramps up, networks seem to be heading toward a more diverse 2013-14.

Fox is leading the way, hiring highly sought-after Latino lead actors Michael Pena (The List), Ramon Rodriguez (Gang Related) and John Ortiz (Rake), while Shame’s Nicole Beharie and newcomer Angelique Cabral have nabbed leads in Sleepy Hollow and Enlisted, respectively. RZA, Jay Hernandez and Sung Kang co-star in Gang Related, and Common Law’s Michael Ealy will play the android lead in the high-concept J.J. Abrams-J.H. Wyman drama.

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“It’s becoming less about filling a quota and more about why this person is amazing for the part,” Fox senior vp casting Tess Sanchez tells THR. The network has boosted diversity thanks in part to hosting “opportunity” forums, where showrunners, casting directors, agents and organizations like the NAACP have gathered.

“It used to be that as long as there was one diverse member in the ensemble, that was enough,” says Sanchez. “But in the Andy Samberg comedy, there are two African-Americans, two Latina actresses and one white guy. That makes me happy.”

The networks seem to be catching up with the increasing diversification of audiences, meaning non-white castings make business sense.

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NBC, which features diverse casts on freshmen Chicago Fire, Guys With Kids and The New Normal, has African-American leads in Ironside (Blair Underwood) and a comedy starring The Office’s Craig Robinson; CBS has David Alan Grier in its comedy Bad Teacher, Dennis Haysbert in Backstrom, Brandon T. Jackson as the son of Eddie Murphy’s character in Beverly Hills Cop and Audra McDonald in The Ordained; ABC has John Leguizamo’s semi-autobiographical comedy, Ming Na in S.H.I.E.L.D., Omar Epps in The Returned and Rockmond Dunbar in Doubt.

Of course, the real measure of diversity will depend on how many of these pilots make it to air.