ABC has one of the most diverse fall programming slates in TV history, and critics want to know why.
At the Television Critics Association press tour Tuesday, ABC chief Paul Lee fielded questions from reporters pushing for a more detailed explanation for why ABC greenlit three ethnic family comedies (Anthony Anderson’s Black-ish, Cristela Alonzo’s Cristela, and Eddie Huang’s Fresh Off the Boat, coming midseason), plus another drama series starring a black actress, Shonda Rhimes’ How to Get Away with Murder.
“We’re taking a very good step along that journey,” Lee told critics at the Beverly Hilton on Tuesday. “To be able to pull this off, you need not just stars on air… you need storytellers and executives”—such as the ones present at that very panel. “I’m very proud—if you look at the back of the room [referencing the various executives in attendance], it’s a very diverse group of people,” Lee continued. “You need the people telling the stories to truly reflect America as it is.”
Reporters asked more explicitly Lee about the trio of family comedies, each of which has its own cultural point of view. “Specificity is so key to great television and great storytelling, and you can smell if something’s an authentic, specific piece,” said Lee. “What really worked for us and what my two heads of development on the network have always done is to find voices of people who are bringing in their own stories. That was true of The Middle and Modern Family as well as Black-ish and Cristela. And every one is relatable because it’s so specific. The truth is it’s as much about culture as it is about race.”
Jumping off that, one critic asked why The Goldbergs—last year’s sitcom about a family in the ’80s—wasn’t more specific in being about a Jewish family. “I think Black-ish will mention the word ‘bar mitzvah’ before The Goldbergs does,” quipped the reporter.
“I don’t think there’s anybody in the country who watches The Goldbergs who doesn’t think it’s a show about a Jewish family; I think it’s pretty explicit,” Lee responded. “We have so much support and respect for [creator] Adam [Goldberg]. Boy, does he have a fantastic comedic attack on the family he came up with, which is a pretty reform Jewish family. So when he’s ready to tell that story he’ll tell that story. I’m 1000 percent supportive of him. We’re not going to push him towards it, we’re not going to stop him telling it… It’s Adam’s show and that’s why it’s so good.”