Scott Roxborough, Hollywood Reporter, March 30, 2016
Driven by the ratings success of shows with mainly nonwhite casts–Empire, Black-ish and Fresh Off the Boat–along with political pressure to make shows better reflect their diverse audience, American TV outlets increasingly are greenlighting series that feature black, Asian and Latino leads. Fox’s 24: Legacy, a reboot of the Kiefer Sutherland series, stars Corey Hawkins, famous as Dr. Dre from Straight Outta Compton. CBS has Rush Hour, based on the action movie franchise, starring Jon Foo and Justin Hires, and has cast Sarah Shahi, a former NFL cheerleader of Persian and Spanish ancestry, as Nancy Drew in its reboot of the lily-white mystery franchise.
But when trying to sell overseas, American shows are finding the color barrier is still there. Why? Insiders say it’s because international audiences have yet to truly embrace diversity on the small screen. “These shows are a reflection of our society, but [they are] not a reflection of all societies,” says Marion Edwards, president of international TV at Fox.
Take Empire. Fox’s hip-hop drama appeared to be a slam dunk for the international market: a splashy mainstream hit that felt both of-the-moment and a throwback to primetime soaps (and global hits) like Dallas and Dynasty. But the show has been a global flop. In the U.K., the first season drew a middling 717,000 viewers on Channel 4’s youth-oriented E4 network, a mere 3 percent share, and season two has fared worse, averaging a 2.2 percent share with 595,000 viewers. The show first season averaged 181,000 viewers on Australia’s Channel Ten, prompting a shift to the smaller Eleven network, where season two has averaged just 77,000 viewers an episode. In Canada, broadcaster Rogers Media moved Empire off its free TV network City after season two ratings dipped to 208,000 viewers, shifting the second half of the season to its online streaming service Shomi. While in Germany, Empire, which aired in primetime onPro7, one of the country’s leading free TV networks, attracted fewer than 1 million viewers per show and less than 4 percent of the national audience, a fraction of the channel’s regular draw.
Adds Edwards: “Having a diverse cast creates another hurdle for U.S. series trying to break through; it would be foolish not to recognize that. We are telling our units that they need to be aware that by creating too much diversity in the leads in their show means . . . problems having their shows translating to the international market.”