Fox’s line-up is getting a little more colorful for the fall 2015 season. The network is premiering two new shows led by Black actors in September— Minority Report and a medical drama called Rosewood.
Set more than a decade after the events of the 2002 Tom Cruise film, Minority Report is a sequel series that stars actress Meagan Good as Laura Vega, a detective who works with the precogs to solve crimes before they happen. Meanwhile, Morris Chestnut helms Rosewood as the titular character, Dr. Beaumont Rosewood Jr., a private pathologist in Miami who aids law enforcement in their investigations.
At the Televisions Critics Association 2015 summer press tour, Good was overjoyed at being cast in a character whose race was not essential to the part.
“Last year, I said this was exactly the thing I wanted to do and a year later it manifested,” she said. “The character is very colorless. The cast, we’re just living, breathing characters. It’s a blessing when people hire you for doing what you do.” She later said, “It has been an incredible year for minorities in TV.”
Indeed, she and Chestnut are just the latest Black actors to be cast as leads on Fox. In 2013, Fox premiered the Golden Globe-winning police comedy, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, starring industry vet Andre Braugher and the supernatural drama, Sleepy Hollow, which stars Black actress Nicole Beharie. Both shows were instant hits.
Then came Fox’s breakout hit, Empire, with an entirely Black main cast led by movie stars Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson. The night-time musical soap is the number one show on broadcast television, surpassing The Big Bang Theory. Empire premiered as Fox’s highest rated show in three years with 9 million viewers, and then progressively increased in ratings each week, culminating in 17 million viewers for its season finale. The unprecedented success of the Lee Daniels series demonstrates that a show with an all-Black cast is not only marketable to the mainstream but that there is even a demand for it.
Fox’s hit show returns for season two on September 23, after the premiere of Rosewood. Sleepy Hollow and Brooklyn Nine-Nine also return this fall during mid-season in October, making that an astounding five prime time TV shows featuring Black lead actors on Fox’s fall 2015 schedule. Viewers can also expect to see a few other famous Black faces on Fox this season. Actress, singer, and talk show host Keke Palmer is a cast member on the upcoming horror-comedy anthology series, Scream Queens, while Christina Milian joins John Stamos and Josh Peck as a regular on the comedy, Grandfathered.
The increase in Black actors is a part of Fox’s larger business model in which diversity is the focal point. Fox executives discussed their plan with Variety magazine in late 2014.
“Diversity to us is a strategy, not an ideal,” said Nicole Bernard, senior VP of the Audience Strategy unit at 20th Century Fox and an African-American. “It’s about the practice of accepting and understanding how the country is changing in order to grow your business. The goal for us is [to attract] more viewers. I don’t care what they look like, I just want more.”
Fox has recognized that reflecting multiculturalism in its programming is absolutely essential to the company’s survival if it wishes to have continued relevance to millennial and post-millennial audiences. In order to ensure diverse programming, Fox is also looking to bring aboard more women and people of color behind the camera, particularly as directors and showrunners.
The network seems to be following the lead of ABC, whose most popular showrunner, Shonda Rhimes, created the highly successful Scandal, which at the time of its 2013 premiere, was the first prime time show to feature a Black lead actress in nearly 40 years.
Fox’s new business model is the answer to a decades-long marketing strategy based on an all-powerful white consumer. Networks and media outlets catered to the white audience that advertisers targeted, but the reality of present times is that the super-consumer is no longer white, and hasn’t been for quite some time.
The super-consumer is a person of color (Black, Hispanic, Asian, American Indian, or Pacific Islander) who made up 92 percent of the population growth from the turn of the century to 2010, engages with social media more, and generally shops more and spends more money on products in a great deal of the biggest advertising categories.
According to a 2013 Nielsen report titled, “Resilient, Receptive, and Relevant,” Black Americans, specifically, watch 37 percent more TV than all other demographics, are 44 percent more likely to create a social media profile, tend to share their TV viewing experiences on social media, and have a buying power of $1 trillion. The report also states that “young African-Americans go beyond merely providing a strong base for brands—they are also key influencers. Other demographic segments have identified Blacks as a driving force for popular culture, with 73 percent of whites and 67 percent of Hispanics who believe Blacks influence mainstream American culture.”
People of color are interested in products and content that reflect their culture. This explains the success of Fox’s Black-helmed shows and ABC’s Scandal, How to Get Away with Murder, and Black-ish, each of which also boasts Black talent in front of and behind the camera. In addition to Empire, the latter two shows are widely considered the biggest successes of the 2014-2015 television season. It would also account for the popularity of other diverse TV shows like ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy, AMC’s The Walking Dead and Netflix’s Orange is the New Black, that feature actors of all skin colors. Black viewers are watching shows that feature a diverse cast in significantly higher numbers than shows without one, and their support is propelling these shows to the top.
If television is the numbers game that we know it to be, we can rest assured of two things: Fox is guaranteed to secure its position of relevance to the millennial audience, and television will see more diverse stories featuring complex characters catered to a dynamic Black audience in the near future.