Diversity: a key ingredient for a successful show. Three of the first five freshman shows to receive a full season order this fall featured minority leads: How to Get Away With Murder, Black-ish and Jane the Virgin. Of course, each show was ultimately picked up because of high ratings; however, these three shows also experienced high social engagement. Each show drove more social mentions compared to most series premieres as fans instantly latched onto the characters and felt compelled to talk about these shows.
How to Get Away With Murder
Shonda Rhimes’ How to Get Away With Murder was the first series picked up this year; Rhimes wrote the book on how to assimilate diversity with mainstream audiences with hit shows Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal. The show’s lead, Viola Davis, blends her Oscar-worthy acting chops with the salacious script, and it works. I’ve been Davis’ biggest cheerleader since Doubt – upstaging Meryl Streep while earning an Oscar nomination for one scene is nothing short of legendary. On Murder she’s a powerful, feared and highly reputable defense attorney, who masks vulnerability and brokenness. Only Davis can rise above the “binge-worthy,” salacious script and seamlessly convey her character’s complexity.
The drama drove more Twitter volume than any other freshman show with 244,427 mentions 24 hours post-premiere. 87% of those social mentions were positive, making it the most positively received freshman show. Social data correlated with Nielsen ratings – it brought in more viewers than any other new show.
ABC announced a full season order for Black-ish consecutively with Murder. Black-ish is the first network comedy to successfully capitalize on the Modern Family appeal while creating a space of its own. The beauty of the show lies in how they transform timely racial issues into genuine comedic moments. The writing doesn’t feel forced or preachy, a tactic that led previous Modern Family knockoffs to cancelation (I’m talking about you, The New Normal). The ability to create a show that makes anyone laugh while serving as a necessary platform to invoke dialogue on racial issues is no easy feat.
The series premiere received almost 3X more mentions than fan-favorite Modern Family with 84,999 tweets within 24 hours, and 73% of these mentions were positive. The most notable social trend came from African American viewers who said how relatable they found the show.
Jane the Virgin
Jane the Virgin was the fifth show to receive a season order. Based on a telenovela, the show centers on a Hispanic family coming to terms with the pregnancy of Jane, a virgin (I know what you’re thinking, but trust me on this one). The show is smart, funny, charming and effortlessly sweet, due in large part to lead newcomer Gina Rodriguez.
The show’s depiction of Hispanic culture is the best network TV has ever seen. The family’s traditional Catholic values make them stronger rather than clichéd, overbearing and judgmental. In addition, family is one of the most important aspects of Jane’s life, but she knows when to make decisions for herself, allowing her Hispanic traditions and religious background to positively guide her through young adulthood. Modern divisive topics like abortion are also addressed without agenda – the show isn’t pro choice or pro life, and it doesn’t want to be.
Jane was the highest rated CW show in two years and drove more social volume than 70% of this season’s network series premieres (almost 30,000 mentions). Over half (64%) of those mentions were positive; it received virtually no negative feedback via Twitter.
Inclusive casting isn’t a stunt for sweeps; it’s a vital component to a successful show. Viewers invite these shows into their homes week after week and develop relationships with the characters. They simply want to see characters that look like them. This trend is simply a growing shift in public consciousness, and it’s impossible to stunt natural growth.