Fall TV Roundup: Glimmers of Diversity

It's slim pickings, for sure, but there are black actors and programs to look out for.

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Fall may be a season of change, but when the five broadcast networks unveil their 27 new series over the next several weeks, you won't see any scripted shows with predominantly African-American casts. That's not exactly change we can believe in.

To be fair, the networks -- ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and the CW -- do a decent job of presenting ensemble shows with racially mixed casts. And Grey's Anatomy creator Shonda Rhimes is prepping a new series for the network called Scandal, starring Kerry Washington (no airdate is set because it's slated for a midseason premiere). But since black people watch more TV, on average, than others, shouldn't the major networks feel the need to muster up a few more scripted shows featuring African-American (or Hispanic or Asian) casts leading the way?

Fortunately, black-centric shows are thriving on basic cable. BET, which has been making a big push toward scripted shows lately, began airing reruns of The Game after the show was canceled by the CW in 2009. The network revived the series with a batch of new episodes in January. The premiere was watched by a record 7.7 million viewers, and during the season the audience averaged about 4 million viewers. To put that in perspective, The Vampire Diaries, which debuted the same year the CW canceled The Game, drew an audience of nearly 5 million in its premiere. (The Vampire Diaries was part of CW's move to attract a more teen-centric and female-focused mainstream audience.)

Up next on BET: the new comedy Reed Between the Lines, with Girlfriends alum Tracee Ellis Ross and Malcolm-Jamal Warner (The Cosby Show), which airs Oct. 11. Ross plays Carla Reed, a psychologist balancing work and home life with her English-professor husband (Warner) and three kids. Sounds a little like The Cosby Show, right? Warner told Entertainment Weekly, "It's kind of like Cliff and Clair for the digital age. We see this as the show everyone says we need on television -- positive family values."

Love him or hate him, Tyler Perry deserves most of the credit for ushering in this new era of black-themed shows on basic cable with House of Payne, which debuted on TBS in 2007 (Meet the Browns followed in 2009). Though House of Payne has been canceled, TBS is picking up Perry's new show, For Better or Worse (a spinoff of his film Why Did I Get Married?), which premieres Nov. 23. Perry also is reportedly in talks to get his own TV network, which would be another venue for black-focused shows.

 

Still, even with diversity at issue on the major networks, there are several performers appearing in new and returning shows whom we can't wait to see. These actors may not be the stars of the shows, but you can definitely expect them to shine as they steal a scene or two.

Taraji P. Henson -- Person of Interest (CBS, Thursdays, 9 p.m.; premieres Sept. 22): The Oscar-nominated actress plays homicide Detective Carter in this highly anticipated thriller from Lost creator J.J. Abrams. Henson's character is hot on the trail of Reese, a homeless ex-CIA agent (Jim Caviezel) who's working with a shady billionaire (Lost's Michael Emerson) to stop crimes before they happen by using some savvy surveillance technology. 

Maya Rudolph -- Up All Night (NBC, Wednesdays, 10 p.m., moves to 8 p.m. after debut; premieres Sept. 14): The Saturday Night Live alum lends her considerable comedic talents to a series starring Christina Applegate and Will Arnett as a couple adjusting to parenthood. Applegate is a TV producer returning to work, and Rudolph plays her boss, an inspirational daytime talk-show host who's just as needy as a newborn. Anyone who's seen Rudolph's hilarious spoof of Oprah on SNL knows this role is a layup. 

Annie Ilonzeh -- Charlie's Angels (ABC, Thursdays, 8 p.m.; premieres Sept. 22): Fans of General Hospital will recognize Ilonzeh, who played Maya Ward. In this reboot of the popular '70s show, Ilonzeh is Kate Prince, a dirty cop who is blessed with a second chance as a private detective. Early word on the show hasn't been all positive. Still, we're willing to watch just to see Isaiah Mustafa (yes, the "Old Spice" guy), who'll have a recurring role as Kate's former fiancé.

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