Could NBC's Undercovers herald a new threshhold for network TV diversity?
Few TV industry types were surprised by the news today that NBC picked up Undercovers as its first new scripted series of the 2010-11 season -- greenlighting a show developed by star producer/director J.J. Abrams (the new Star Trek reboot movie, Fringe, Lost).
Abrams, one of Hollywood's most successful TV and film auteurs, co-wrote and directed the pilot, which features a married couple who are secretly retired CIA agents running a catering business.
When they spring back into action to save a friend, they discover a spark their married life had been missing. Imagine a hip-ified, Abrams-style mashup of Hart to Hart and Mr. and Mrs. Smith.
But the most groundbreaking part of this show may be in its cast. Stars Boris Kodjoe and British actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw are both black.
This is the highest-profile proof that the networks may make good on their promises to field a more diverse slate of characters in their shows, after disappointing seasons where few series starred people of color beyond supporting roles in ensemble casts.
Undercovers could also mark an important step for Abrams, who kicked off the trend of multicultural ensemble casts with Lost, but has also taken criticism for creating shows such as Alias and Fringe, where characters of color are most often what the Los Angeles Times once called BBFs -- or Black Best Friends.
There are other projects in the hopper starring African American, Asian and Hispanic lead characters: Forest Whitaker is the lead on CBS' Criminal Minds spinoff; Laz Alonso tops the Fox action-drama Breakout Kings; Six Feet Under alum Freddy Rodriguez headlines CBS' CIA drama Chaos, directed and executive produced by X-Men director Brett Ratner.
Former Hong Kong action star Maggie Q. (the deadly martial arts expert in Live Free or Die Hard) stars in The CW's remake of La Femme Nikita called simply Nikita. And Jimmy Smits has a pilot at NBC playing a Supreme Court justice who goes back to private practice.
If even half of these shows make it to the networks' fall schedules, network TV's starring roles could begin approaching the diversity we're already seeing in government and real life. NBC announces the rest of its schedule May 17 at the start of network TV's "upfront" advertising season.
And wouldn't that be a nice piece of art imitating life?