There were heated debates on diversity and violence, sharp words between executives on whether there’s too much TV, and plenty of breaking news over the past two weeks at the Television Critics Association’s semi-annual press tour in Beverly Hills. We sat through more than 140 panels as network executives, producers and stars talked about their new and returning shows. With more than stories posted, here’s the news that stood out the most:
Diversity: No more excuses: Questions about the lack of diversity on TV at certain networks come up every year. But with some networks making major strides recently (like FX, ABC, and Fox), organizations that have lagged behind now really stand out. The biggest offender, from the critics perspective, was CBS, which has six new fall shows starring six white male actors. As one reporter grilled the network’s entertainment president Glenn Geller (who’s relatively new in the top seat and not responsible for the network’s history on this issue): “You guys have been aware of this diversity problem for awhile. We’ve been talking about it at press tours for years. How can you come up with a slate where every star is a white male? You don’t have any showrunners of color, and you’ve had years to fix this.” The questioning was so intense that Geller ended up having to repeat variations on “we need to do better” nearly 10 times. ABC also was knocked too, for once again not having a non-white Bachelor, something that also comes up every recent TCA (and which Lifetime’s satiric dramedy UnREAL has been throwing into sharp relief). Meanwhile NBC’s new time travel drama Timeless is tackling the diversity discussion within the show itself, with a trio of leads giving a fresh perspective on history by traveling to less tolerant eras of the past. And CBS’ upcoming Star Trek is seeking a female actress with a “level of diversity” for its lead character (plus showrunner Bryan Fuller spilled a bunch of new details about the project).
Love for the ladies: While diversity was a hot topic, female characters dominated the stage, from baseball’s first woman in the major leagues on Pitch to the Mr. Robot women proclaiming they’re not secondary characters. Sarah Jessica Parker also talked her return to HBO for Divorce, Kyra Sedgwick landed a new drama at ABC, and Mindy Kaling explained why being on Hulu is better than being on Fox. On a more personal note, Mandy Moore opened up about her how her experience getting divorced is fuel for new project This Is Us, while Caterina Scorsone debuted a baby bump that won’t play into the new season of Grey’s Anatomy. Starz also ordered a series about strippers called Pussy Valley, so make of that what you will.
Violence reconsidered: At times the debate over violence at TCA seemed like an extension of the diversity discussion, with similar progressive ideals prompting critics to slam HBO for sexual violence on Game of Thrones and the upcoming Westworld. Fox decided to not have guns in its marketing art for its upcoming Lethal Weapon TV series (unlike every poster for the four-film feature franchise) and plans to only use gun violence in a more “thoughtful” way in the upcoming 24 reboot. And NBC’s Blindspot will scale back its violence for season 2 (producers cite the show’s move to an earlier time period, but when have you ever heard a producer say they were cutting back on violence for any reason?). But outside the TCA ballroom, critics were privately more divided on this issue than the diversity topic. Violence is arguably baked into the realistic depiction of any high stakes storytelling (part of the very definition of “drama” is “a series of events involving interesting or intense conflict of forces”). After years of networks pushing the envelope toward more shocking premium-cable-level content across the dial, everybody seems like they’re trying to navigate how to continue telling stories that contain violence, yet without resorting to gratuitous exploitation.
Looking to the future: ABC revealed they’re still hoping for a Star Wars series for primetime, but now there are actual talks for some kind of mysterious project (Once Upon a Tatooine?). The network also basically gave Shonda Rhimes free reign when it comes the length of Grey’s Anatomy, while standing by its decision to cancel Castle. HBO finally confirmed that season 8 would be Game of Thrones’ last, but the future for True Detective was a little more murky. Though it hasn’t been renewed, Arrested Development is gearing up for a fifth season on Netflix that will likely tone down its Trump jokes. Stranger Things is also already looking toward a darker season 2, but no official word yet on when it will return. NBC also has high hopes for finding a home for its series version of Cruel Intentions, while pushing David Duchovny’s Aquarius back to Saturdays (and likely into an early grave), though Fox was hopeful for more X-Files. Also, though contract negotiations with the cast of The Big Bang Theory are looming, CBS is confident the show will continue on past season 10. Oh, and Matt LeBlanc doesn’t know if he’ll be back on Top Gear. The CW, meanwhile, is still hopeful for a Supernatural spinoff, plans to have Nina Dobrev return for the final season of Vampire Diaries, and scrapped plans for reboots of Little Women and Friday the 13th.
The Peak TV debate gets (more) feisty: The “there’s too much TV” vs. “there’s not enough TV” debate got heated between network executives who staked out opposing corners of the conversation as the number of scripted shows surged past 400 this year. Showtime CEO David Nevins snarked, “The only people who actually complain about too much TV seemed to be burned out TV executives and you guys who are obliged to cover it all,” which sounded like a shot at FX’s John Landgraf, who once again presented a flurry of data about the overwhelming amount of content this year. Meanwhile Netflix’s high-volume advocate Ted Sarandos countered, “There are too many mediocre, safe shows on linear television… Our goal is to keep the bar high and keep them coming.” And NBC wha-wha’d by seeming to just now realize that fans like to watch TV shows in chronological order. The sheer number of shows also means more competition during award season, which led to Starz CEO Chris Albrecht to lament the “silly” snub of Outlander at the Emmys, noting each year there’s “a longer list of losers and the same number of winners.” And some ABC comedy showrunners claimed they’re perfectly happy on a big broadcast network and don’t have “cable envy” (though if you’re the producer of The Middle or Last Man Standing, what else are you going to say?).
New faces, new places: It’s Britney, bitch official: Britney Spears will join James Corden on Carpool Karaoke. Speaking of divas, Empire will feature Mariah Carey, whom Taraji P. Henson says is “beautiful to look at.” (Mariah also slayed critics while sipping champagne atop a purple velvet chaise and shared her love for Scandal. See above.) And speaking of Henson, she’ll lend her voice to the first-ever one-hour episode of The Simpsons, while Amy Schumer will make the rounds on The Simpsons, Family Guy, and Bob’s Burgers. Also, This Is Us added Katey Sagal and Brad Garrett, Modern Family will welcome Nathan Fillion and Martin Short, Jon Hamm and Aziz Ansari are among those heading to Billy on the Street, Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally will arrive at Life in Pieces, Michael Imperioli will appear on Lucifer, Rosie O’Donnell and Sean Hayes joined Hairspray Live! (more on that here), while Gotham preps to introduce a proto-Harley Quinn and Killer Croc.
Super news: While CW boss Mark Pedowitz said it was unlikely they’d be adding another superhero show to the Berlanti-verse, executive producers from Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl, and Legends of Tomorrow came armed with news. There were teasers, castings (Dolph Lundgren on Arrow!), and first looks. Then a reveal that Supergirl and The Flash would cross over for a musical event (seriously), and a tease of how Supergirl would handle Calista Flockhart’s new role. Kevin Smith will return to direct The Flash and also helm an episode of Supergirl. CW Seed also gave the greenlight to a new animated series featuring a gay superhero. Speaking of, the super bosses teased that a character on one of their shows would come out.
The GOP elephant in the room: Of course, Donald Trump was going to come up. Former Community star Donald Glover came close to touching the third rail by seeming to pine for Trump’s death when discussing the ending of his NBC show. NBC, meanwhile, unilaterally stated that Trump is never coming back to Celebrity Apprentice. And Stephen Colbert is near a deal for a Showtime special on Election Night, which the network notes will allow him to use profanity (expect plenty if Trump wins). Trump will also loom large on Homeland this season as the show’s new female president is a mix of the candidates.
All about the Girls: Netflix came out strong on the first day of TCA, setting a premiere date for its upcoming Gilmore Girls revival and dropping the first trailer for what EP Amy Sherman-Palladino said was a more grown-up take on the girls, who can now share a cocktail — which is also what most people watching will be doing. In other Netflix news, the streamer broke Marvel hearts by explaining why they won’t pick up Agent Carter, and stayed cagey on whether Jessica Jones would make her way to Luke Cage.
Other controversy: NBC faced uncertainty over an unstable Rio heading into the Olympics, CW boss Mark Pedowitz finally addressed The 100‘s multiple issues last season, The Real O’Neals bosses tackled Noah Galvin’s infamous interview, Katherine Heigl also responded to Seth Rogen’s Knocked Up comments, Showtime ended up with both Taran Killam and Jay Pharoah after their sudden SNL departures (and the network came clean over that Penny Dreadful ending). Oh and thanks, hipsters, you killed You’re the Worst‘s Sunday Funday.
Renewals: A number of shows were lucky enough to secure a future, including USA’s Suits, Starz’s Girlfriend Experience, TNT’s The Last Ship, OWN’s Queen Sugar, and HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher. Also, Zoo scored a third season, while CBS also picked up Big Brother for two more.
Random big-ish headlines: Transparent season 3 trailer (a Recitfy one, too), Dick Wolf’s empire might expand to the FBI, Golden Globes host announced, AHS teasers, Snoop Dogg is a producer on MTV’s weed show, 50 Cent is making a superhero show for Starz, NBC will celebrate Tony Bennett’s 90th birthday with a big bash, Amazon spilled far too many spoilers on Man in the High Castle‘s new season, Fox set a crossover between New Girl and Brooklyn Nine-Nine (and plans to sample Son of Zorn post-football), Lost has basically inspired all of NBC’s new fall shows (except Timeless, oddly), and The People v O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story cleaned up at the TCA Awards (see all winners here).
— Additional reporting throughout TCA by Marc Snetiker, Dan Snierson, and Lynette Rice