March 11, 2011 at 05:00 AM EST

Television has become an ever-more-welcoming medium for white actresses seeking juicy parts, and now it seems that benefit may finally be extending to African-American actresses as well. The notoriously whitewashed broadcast networks have a whopping three pilots going starring — yes, starring — black women. Angela Bassett plays a special agent in charge of an elite police unit on ABC’s Identity; Taraji P. Henson portrays a detective on the CBS drama Person of Interest; and Kerry Washington takes on the role of a high-powered publicist on ABC’s Damage Control. Considering that the only black women to be found on the current prime-time network schedule are in large ensembles like Glee and Grey’s Anatomy, this could mean major progress, especially if all three actually air.

Of course, such ”progress” only brings TV more in line with basic reality. ”I’m a black woman, and I am the lead of my own television show in my head,” says Grey‘s guru Shonda Rhimes, who created Damage Control based on the life of Judy Smith, who is African-American. ”The world on TV should look like the world I see when I walk outside my door.” Person of Interest producer J.J. Abrams, also a longtime proponent of diversity in his shows, is heartened by next season’s lineup: ”The good news here is that I’m hardly alone in thinking about these things,” he says. ”Hopefully it’ll continue to the point where one day, none of this is even newsworthy anymore.”

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