CBS fall 2019 lineup: With 'Bob Hearts Abishola' and 'All Rise', network aims to tell more stories about people of color
Since 2018, CBS has been introducing more shows featuring people of color, achieving one of the most diverse network lineups today
When CBS picked up six shows for fall 2016, all featuring white, male leads, the network came under a lot of criticism for its lack of diverse representation. Fast forward to 2019, CBS has not one, not two but eight shows with people of color and women in lead roles on air this fall. The shows feature people of color in a variety of roles, from immigrant nurses to judges to detectives to federal agents.
Among the shows, 'S.W.A.T.' is a crime drama reboot of its original 1975 series, starting its third season this year. Sitcoms 'God Friended Me' (featuring Suraj Sharma from 'Life of Pi') and 'The Neighborhood' (starring Cedric the Entertainer) first aired in 2018 and will continue with their second seasons. 'Magnum P.I.' cast Jay Hernandez in the updated reboot and will also premiere its second season this fall.
In 2019, CBS has cemented its commitment to including more stories of color. First up is Chuck Lorre's 'Bob Hearts Abishola', a drama about a middle-aged white businessman Bob (Billy Gardell) who falls for his Nigerian-immigrant nurse Abishola (Folake Olowofoyeku) after suffering from a heart attack. Chuck Lorre tapped Gina Yashere to be an executive producer on the show to get all aspects of Nigerian culture right when portraying Abishola and her family. Yashere is a British comedian of Nigerian origin who had previously worked on 'The Daily Show with Trevor Noah' and 'The Tonight Show with Jay Leno'.
Next, is the legal drama 'All Rise' which looks at the chaotic and hopeful lives of those who work in the legal system. In it, Lola (Simone Missick) is a newly appointed judge who does not take her role lightly, but immerses herself and continuously questions what is expected of her as a judge.
The third new show featuring a lead of color is 'Evil' which stars Mike Colter from Netflix's 'Luke Cage'. The supernatural drama follows a psychologist who works with a priest (Cage) and a contractor (Aasif Mandvi) to investigate supernatural occurrences.
Of these, 'Bob Hearts Abishola' and 'All Rise' stand poised to tell unique stories not explored before in American television. During the Television Critics Association (TCA) summer press tour, Chuck Lorre stated that 'Bob Hearts Abishola' is not a political show, but a story about people, that it is "an homage of what we’ve been through, what our ancestors have been through which is coming here and somehow finding a foothold and making a life for ourselves and for our children, and descendants." Yashere meanwhile stated that the show "could help find common ground" for the viewers.
There are not many shows that are centered around the American immigrant experience, and less so on the issues that current immigrants go through to make a life for themselves and a better future for their descendants. Shows like 'Jane the Virgin', and 'One Day At A Time' follow the lives of the children and grandchildren of those who migrated to the US from South and Central America, respectively. Meanwhile, in 'Fresh Off The Boat' based on the book of the same name by Eddie Huang, follows his family's experience as Taiwanese immigrants in the 1990s.
We can expect to see a new kind of story from CBS' 'Bob Hearts Abishola'. For one, the show will be the first time a Nigerian character plays a central role in American television. Moreover, by including Yashere among the core creators, Lorre has ensured that the stories remain accurate and relevant. Lorre stated that the show will not deal with whether Abishola is in the US legally or illegally during the TCA event, saying "we’re making a comment on the people who are working here and working their hearts out".
In 'All Rise', Missick plays African-American Lola Carmichael, previously a Deputy District Attorney who is a newly-appointed judge. The show follows Carmichael as she takes charge of the power of her position, while she strives to be honorable in her decisions. The show will have great responsibility over the stories it tells, after all, according to the NAACP, African-Americans are five times more likely to be incarcerated than white people. Additionally, only 14% of active district court judges in the USA are African-American. Whether 'All Rise' will address this racial disparity, and if so, how the writers will do it will play a big role in how viewers take to the drama.
CBS has taken steps in the right direction. Of the six shows that CBS ordered that caused the widespread criticism against the network regarding its diversity, three have been canceled ('Kevin Can Wait', 'The Great Indoors', and 'Pure Genius'). Following the success of the shows that debuted last year featuring people of color in lead roles ('FBI' was among the top 20 of most viewed shows of the 2018-2019 season according to Deadline), CBS is giving people of color the chance to tell their stories. The success and reaction to the network's latest shows will be of note to viewers and other networks looking to implement better diversity in their programming.