By Tambay A. Obenson
Shadow and Act
With the current season near its end, executives at the major TV networks are looking to build their summer, fall and winter 2016 lineups.
And if you think that the 2014-2015 TV season showed that networks finally understand that people of all colors are looking for quality programming, next season looks like a continuation of that trend.
A look at the TV pilots, and new series (regular and mini/event) that have been ordered for the 2015/2016 TV season shows that there are at least 73 pilots/series with black actors in starring/lead/supporting roles that have been ordered by the broadcast and cable TV networks.
ABC, the home of Shonda Rhimes’s Thursday night “Shondaland” Block, leads all networks with 14 projects that feature black actors in starring, lead and/or supporting roles. NBC, the network that gave us “The Cosby Show” is close behind, with 13.
At least half of the 73 pilots or series feature Blacks in leading roles so far. In the coming months, we’ll find out how many of these pilots will make it to series, as each network shores-up its lineup for the coming year in television.
Typically, once a pilot is shot and edited, the network must decide which shows to run with, which to shelve for possible later use, and which to dump altogether. The percentage of shows that get picked up for the fall lineup varies from network to network.
For example, a broadcast network that buys 25 comedy scripts will shoot 12 of them as pilots, and, eventually, only two of those 12 become a series. Cable TV networks are less active, developing far fewer pilots, most of which become a series. So the percentages a pilot gets picked up to series are higher with cable TV networks, if only because they develop a lot fewer shows than their broadcast network counterparts.
Pilot season always closes with the all-important upfronts. This is when the network execs gather to premiere their slate of fall shows for advertisers. The name comes from the process of advertisers buying ad time “up front” based on the perceived success of the fall lineup.
Without further ado, here’s the list of 73 in alphabetical order by network:
1) Rutina Wesley is 1 of 4 leads in ABC’s cop drama pilot titled “Broad Squad,” which, inspired by real-life stories, follows the first 4 women to graduate from Boston’s Police Academy in 1978
2) Mike Epps & Nia Long will star in ABC’s small screen adaptation of the John Candy movie “Uncle Buck”
3) Enuka Okuma has a supporting role in “The Adversaries,” which follows the patriarch of a New York legal dynasty who becomes embroiled in a trial of his own, and his federal prosecutor daughter must decide which side she will fight on
4) Aunjanue Ellis plays the female lead in ABC’s FBI drama-thriller “Quantico” which follows a group of new recruits) one of which could go on to be responsible for a terrorist attack
5) Paula Patton headlines ABC’s arms dealing drama pilot ‘Runner,’ a “Traffic”-like expose, but, instead of drugs, its focus is on arms dealing, and seen through the eyes of a woman lead, played by Patton. Vondie Curtis Hall co-stars.
6) Joy Bryant is set as the co-lead opposite Kim Raver in the ABC drama pilot “The Advocate,” which is inspired by the real story of former talent agent Byrdie Lifson-Pompan, who teamed with Valerie Ulene, a medical doctor and a health education specialist, to launch a healthcare consulting company.
7) Viola Davis & Debra Martin Chase teamed up for an ABC Drama inspired by prolific Michigan Prosecutor Kym Worthy.
8) Blondy Baruti will co-lead an Untitled NBA Project, which follows a sweet yet wimpy teaching assistant living in his parents’ basement who’s tapped by an NBA manager to become a translator for a talented but lazy recruit from Botswana. Baruti, who stands at 6’10, will play the talented but lazy recruit from Botswana.
9) Jermaine Fowler and Whoopi Goldberg star as grandson and grandmother in “Delores & Jermaine,” which is based on the life of comedian Fowler, who stars as a millennial with big ideas, but very little drive, who moves in with his estranged grandmother (Goldberg) — a strict, football-loving, former D.C. cop.
10) Tisha Campbell-Martin has a supporting role in “Dr. Ken,” a comedy series which follows a frustrated doctor juggling medicine, marriage and parenting.
11) Jacky Ido has a supporting role in Shondaland’s new drama series “The Catch,” which centers on a gutsy female forensic accountant who exposes fraud for a living and has finally found fulfillment both at work and in love until a case comes along that threatens to turn her world upside down.
12) Khary Payton plays a supporting role in “The Kingmakers,” a “Revenge”-like drama that follows a freshman at an elite Ivy League university, who adopts a new identity to infiltrate the school and its century-old secret society in order to investigate the death of his sister.
13) Darrell Britt-Gibson has a supporting role in “L.A. Crime,” a character-driven, true-crime procedural anthology that explores sex, politics and popular culture across various noteworthy eras in L.A. history, with the first season focusing on 2 LA cops in search for a Bonnie & Clyde-esque serial killing team amid the rock-and-roll, coke-infused revelry of the 1980s.
14) Maisie Richardson-Sellers, who has a role in the upcoming “Star Wars” movie, will play a lead in “Of Kings And Prophets,” ABC’s drama pilot described as an epic biblical saga of faith, ambition and betrayal as told through the eyes of a battle-weary king.
15) Matt Murray has a supporting role in the workplace comedy pilot “Kevin From Work,” which follows a lonely young man unlucky in love who professes his love to his beautiful and quirky co-worker Audrey, thinking he’ll never see her again after he accepts a job offer overseas. But then that job offer is rescinded and now they have to continue to work with each other.
16) Andre Royo & Emayatzy Corinealdi in Amazon Original Series ‘Hand of God’ which centers on a powerful, hard-living Judge, who’s also a married man with a high-end call girl on the side, who suffers a mental breakdown and goes on a vigilante quest to find the rapist who tore his family apart.
17) Romany Malco is one of 4 leads in “Mad Dogs,” an hour-long dark comedy drama that follows the reunion of a group of underachieving forty-something friends) a mixture of single, married and recently divorced, all seemingly at crossroads in their lives.
18) Lucien Laviscount and Adrienne Warren have supporting roles in the Civil War-set drama, “Point of Honor,” about a Virginia family, led by their West Point bred son, that makes the controversial decision to defend the South while freeing all of their slaves.
19) Toks Olagundoye plays a supporting role in “Salem Rogers,” a half-hour comedy about an overly confident, blunt, hard-partying former supermodel who is forced to face her past and re-enter the real world after ten years in a posh rehab center.
20) Anika Noni Rose (stars) & Phylicia Rashad (supporting) in CBS Drama ‘For Justice,’ which will follow a female FBI agent working in the Criminal Section of the Department of Civil Rights Division, who finds herself caught between her radical real family and her professional family.
21) Sahr Ngaujah plays a supporting role in the comedy pilot “Taxi-22,” an adaptation of the hit French Canadian comedy about a misanthropic and politically incorrect NYC cab driver in the vein of Archie Bunker.
22) This summer will also see the premiere of “Zoo,” which is based on the #1 bestselling novel by James Patterson, with a cast that includes Brit Nonso Anozie, in a series that centers on a wave of mysterious, seemingly coordinated violent animal attacks against humans, taking place across the globe.
23) Dule Hill, Kobi Libii, and Laverne Cox play supporting roles in the hour-long pilot “Doubt,” which will focus on a defense lawyer at a firm who gets romantically involved with one of her clients) a faux pas made worse by the fact that he may or may not be guilty of a brutal crime.
24) Damon Wayans, Jr. was offered a co-lead (the role originated by Chris Tucker in the movie franchise) in CBS’ ‘Rush Hour’ TV series adaptation, although no confirmation that he’s accepted the role.
25) Mehcad Brooks and David Harewood play supporting roles in the new ‘Supergirl’ series
26) Duane Martin has a supporting role in the comedy “Joe Time,” which follows a family man who struggles with the fact that everyone around him is pursuing their dreams and enjoying their lives more than he is.
27) Tyler James Williams, who recurs on “The Walking Dead,” is set to co-star in CBS’ “Criminal Minds” spinoff, which follows FBI agents helping American citizens who find themselves in trouble abroad.
28) Reg E. Cathey plays a supporting role in “The Walking Dead” creator Robert Kirkman’s Cinemax drama pilot “Outcast,” which is based on his new comic book of the same name, which centers on a man who has been plagued by possession since he was a child. Now, as an adult, he embarks on a spiritual journey to find answers, but what he uncovers could mean the end of life on Earth as we know it.
29) David Gyasi co-stars in “Cordon,” an ensemble cast series that examines what happens when a deadly epidemic breaks out in Atlanta and a large city quarantine is quickly enforced, leaving those stuck on the inside to fight for their lives.
30) Meagan Good stars in Fox’s serial adaptation of ‘Minority Report,” based on the Steven Spielberg movie, which was based on the Philip K. Dick short story.
31) Morris Chestnut stars in a crime procedural pilot, “Rosewood,” which centers on Dr. Beaumont Rosewood, Jr., a gifted, charismatic private pathologist who can read living and dead bodies like a book.
32) Malcolm-Jamal Warner has a supporting role in “48 Hours ‘Til Monday,” which centers on a husband’s desperate struggle to not let every weekend go completely to hell.
33) Keke Palmer, Lucien Laviscount, and Niecy Nash are part of an ensemble cast in “Scream Queens,” a 15-episode straight-to-series order for the fall, revolving around a college campus that’s rocked by a series of murders.
34) James Earl co-stars in the comedy “Cooper Barrett’s Guide to Surviving Life,” which celebrates the mistakes and misadventures people make during the years after college before settling down.
35) Vanessa Williams plays a supporting role in “Fantasy Life,” a drama about a hard-working guy who lands his ultimate dream job hosting a fantasy football show, where he’s forced to navigate office politics, while becoming the star he never thought he could be.
36) Keith and Kenny Lucas, creators and voice stars of Fox’s animated series, “The Lucas Bros. Moving Co.,” are developing a live-action comedy for the network, to be titled “A Better Bushwick,” which will tell the story of identical twin brothers, who drop out of Duke and NYU law schools in their third years, in order to become community organizers) thanks to President Obama.
37) Courtney B. Vance and Cuba Gooding Jr star in the first season of Ryan Murphy’s “American Crime,” which will center on the O.J. Simpson murder trial.
38) FX ordered a comedy pilot on the Atlanta hip-hop scene from and starring Donald Glover.
39) Regina King plays a lead role in the FX comedy pilot “Pariah,” which follows a TV personality who is blacklisted from the business after an on-air meltdown, and is now forced to create a new life for himself.
40) HBO gave a pilot order to Issa Rae’s “Awkward Black Girl”-esque comedy series, ‘Insecure’ (co-written w/ Larry Wilmore).
41) Diallo Riddle and Bashir Brothers write and star in a comedy about struggling entertainers and best friends trying to navigate relationships and life in the black Mecca known as Atlanta.
42) HBO’s “Westworld” series adaptation features an ensemble cast that includes Jeffrey Wright and Thandie Newton. In the proposed series, a robot malfunction creates havoc and terror for unsuspecting vacationers at a futuristic, adult-themed amusement park.
43) LaTanya Richardson Jackson, Natalie Paul, and Clarke Peters are all in the cast of HBO’s low-income housing debate drama, “Show Me a Hero,” which is based on the 1999 nonfiction book of the same name by Lisa Belkin, and details a middle-class neighborhood’s resistance to a public housing development in Yonkers, NY, and how these tensions affected the city as a whole.
44) Da’vine Joy Randolph has been cast as a female lead in “Vice Principals,” HBO’s 18-episode comedy series which tells the story of a high school and the people who almost run it: the vice principals.
45) Newcomer Devon Terrell stars in Steve McQueen’s somewhat secretive HBO project, which will be titled “Codes of Conduct.” Terrell will play a character named Beverly Snow, a talented, confident young man from Queens, NY, who, with a chameleon-like ability, breaks into the social circles of Manhattan’s elite, testing the boundaries of social mobility.
46) Michael Kenneth Williams has booked the starring role in IFC’s “The Spoils of Babylon” series sequel, to be titled “The Spoils Before Dying,” which is set in the Los Angeles’ 1950s jazz scene, and will follow Rock Banyon (played by Williams), a down-and-out jazz pianist who becomes the prime suspect when his lead singer (who also happens to be his lover) is found murdered. To prove his innocence, and avoid a death penalty, Rock uses the next 72 hours to clear his name, on the run, in a quest for the truth loaded with sex, murder, love and betrayal.
47) Megalyn Echikunwoke plays a supporting role in “Damien,” Lifetime’s straight-to-series adaptation of the classic horror film “The Omen.” The network has ordered a six-episode series that will follow the adult life of Damien Thorn, the child from the 1976 film who has grown up, seemingly unaware of the satanic forces around him. Haunted by his past, Damien must now come to terms with his true destiny) that he is the Antichrist.
48) Jerrod Carmichael stars in the comedy based on his own life and stand-up routines, titled ‘Go Jerrod Go.’ David Alan Grier, Loretta Devine, Lil Rel, and Amber West are also part of the cast.
49) Wesley Snipes is heading to TV for NBC’s ‘Endgame,’ which is set in the high stakes world of Las Vegas, where a former sniper turned security expert is drawn into a mysterious conspiracy that forces him to complete a series of heroic challenges in order to save innocent lives.
50) Lance Gross and Andy Allo co-star in NBC’s martial arts drama “Warrior,” which centers on a woman named Kai Forrester, who works undercover with physical and spiritual guidance from a mysterious martial arts master to bring down the organized crime syndicate known as YOMI.
51) S. Epatha Merkerson and Yaya DaCosta are part of an ensembles cast in NBC’s medical drama “Chicago Med,” a spinoff in the mold of the network’s successful “Chicago Fire” series.
52) Craig Robinson stars in the comedy series, “Mr Robinson,” which centers on Robinson, who leads a double life) at night he jams in a rock band called Nasty Delicious that has been unsuccessfully trying to break out for a decade; by day, he has a gig that pays the bills working as a substitute music teacher with the Chicago School District. Meagan Good, Brandon T. Jackson, and Amandla Stenberg are also members of the cast.
53) Tone Bell and Bresha Webb are part of an ensemble cast series from producer Will Packer, titled “People Are Talking,” which examines sex, race and everything else your parents told you never to talk about.
54) Colton Dunn is part of an ensemble cast in a comedy titled “Superstore,” about a group of employees at a big box store who quickly learn that there’s much more to their ho-hum jobs) like love, friendship, and the surprises of everyday moments – than they thought.
55) Stephan James is part of an ensemble cast one-hour drama following a group of flawed guardian angels who intervene in the lives of those who find themselves facing crisis in an attempt to restore their faith and, often, save their lives. It’s titled “Unveiled.”
56) Donald Faison plays a supporting role in an Untitled Monica Potter project, which follows a woman (Potter) who juggles her busy family life, as well as her 3 ex-husbands (Faison is one of them), which proves to be difficult when she starts dating again.
57) Marianne Jean-Baptiste and Ukweli Roach play supporting roles in “Blindspot,” a crime drama which follows what happens when a beautiful woman, with no memories of her past, is found naked in Times Square with her body fully covered in intricate tattoos) a discovery that sets off a vast and complex mystery that immediately ignites the attention of the FBI who begin to follow the road map on her body to reveal a larger conspiracy of crime, while bringing her closer to discovering the truth about her identity.
58) Carlease Burke has been cast in NBC’s untitled comedy pilot, which chronicles how things backfire for recent empty-nesters, when their children and their parents move back home.
59) Larenz Tate is set to co-star in NBC’s drama pilot “Game Of Silence,” which is based on a Turkish series, and follows a rising attorney on the brink of success who could lose his perfectly crafted life when his long-lost childhood friends (Tate being one of them) threaten to expose a dark secret from their violent past.
60) Rockmond Dunbar has signed up to play a male lead in the NBC drama pilot “Love Is A Four Letter Word,” which chronicles the collision of race, sexuality and gender roles when 3 diverse couples put modern marriage to the test.
61) Rosario Dawson and Vondie Curtis-Hall play supporting roles in ‘Daredevil,’ the serial adaptation of the Marvel comic book franchise.
62) Mike Colter and Eka Darville play supporting roles in “A.K.A. Jessica Jones,” also based on a Marvel comic character.
63) Condola Rashad plays a supporting role in the Showtime Wall Street-set drama pilot “Billions,” which follows 2 industry titans, and their impending clash.
64) Nonso Anozie & Kylie Bunbur play suporting roles in the event series “Tut,” which explores the drama of power, political back-stabbing, war and murder, and chronicles King Tut’s rise to glory, his efforts to rule a chaotic empire and the enigma surrounding his death.
65) Jill Marie Jones plays the female lead in Starz original series based on the “Evil Dead” film franchise.
66) Dominique Tipper & Chad Coleman are part of an ensemble cast in Syfy’s new space opera “The Expanse,” which centers on the crew of a space ship, who discover a derelict vessel which holds a secret that may be devastating to human existence.
67) Osy Ikhile has been cast in a lead role in Syfy’s 6-hour miniseries adaptation of author Arthur C. Clarke’s “Childhood’s End,” which follows a peaceful alien invasion of Earth by the mysterious Overlords, whose arrival begins decades of apparent utopia under indirect alien rule, at the cost of human identity and culture.
68) Roger Cross is part of an ensemble cast in “Dark Matter,” which is based on the graphic novel of the same name, and tells the story of the crew of a derelict spaceship who are awakened from stasis with no memories of who they are, or how they got on board. Facing threats at every turn, they have to work together to survive a voyage charged with vengeance, betrayal and hidden secrets.
69) Aisha Hinds plays a supporting role in “Breed”) a supernatural thriller pilot that tells the wild and chilling story of a series of brutal murders in the Pacific Northwest, and the mysterious race of creatures who may be committing them.
70) Shaquille O’Neal will star in a new scripted comedy for TruTV, based on the running of his business empire, post-basketball.
71) A new scripted half-hour dramedy series titled ‘Born Again Virgin’ (debuts in the summer), set in Atlanta, that explores the love lives of three 30-something best friends played by Danielle Nicolet, Gabrielle Dennis, and Eva Marcille. R&B singer Tank co-stars.
72) Tory Kittles is part of an ensemble cast in the drama-thriller ‘The Colony,’ which centers on a Los Angeles that’s been forced to make difficult choices as the city struggles to balance staying together, while surviving an alien threat to the human race. Some collaborate with the authorities and benefit from the new order, while others rebel and suffer the consequences.
73) Jurnee Smollett-Bell and Aldis Hodge are set to star in a scripted TV series based on stories of the Underground Railroad. It will follow the slaves who set foot on the fabled Underground Railroad, the secret network of men and women who risked their lives aiding them, and the mercenaries tasked with hunting them down at any cost.
To reiterate, this list will be updated regularly as new projects and castings are announced.
Pilot season always closes with the all-important upfronts. This is when the network execs gather to premiere their slates of fall shows for advertisers. The name comes from the process of advertisers buying ad time “up front” based on the perceived success of the fall lineup.