Wait a minute…I must’ve missed a bunch of TV promos recently. I just saw a poster for 1600 Penn, a new NBC show that claims to be “An unexpected comedy about the First Family of the USA.”
Unexpected is right. I was a bit surprised (but also, sadly, not surprised) to see that the first family portrayed on the show looks like this:
When the first family in real life looks like this:
Now, I understand television shows (especially comedies) are not the place to look for accurate portrayals of communities and the people who live in them. There have been a lot of articles written this year on the lack of diversity for different shows and networks. I don’t know what goes into the decision making process when casting these shows. I’m sure some of it has to do with the demographic the show is trying to reach, or it may be a complete oversight on the staff’s part. But it’s a little hard for me to understand why this show can’t accept a colorful cast to represent the first family when AMERICA HAS.
I don’t know anything about this show. I didn’t watch the preview, I just read one harsh review and another one saying it was kind of lackluster but worth another watch. And pilots are hard, so it could get better. I also don’t know the timeline of this show. Someone could have had the idea for this show years ago and had a Caucasian family in mind as the cast when we still had a Caucasian President. But I do know that we’ve had a President who identifies as African-American in office for the last four years, and that will continue to be the case for the next four years. So whenever this show was cast, chances are, we had an African-American President at the time. And for however long this show will run, we will still have an African-American President. So, it seems that someone made an active choice to create a cast that does not represent the current/future state of the White House.
I know this is fiction, and being the President of the United States is a job, and (ideally) anyone can work that job or portray it onscreen. There have been TV shows with African-American Presidents and female Presidents, and those shows didn’t set out to represent the current make up of the White House, they just chose to portray that role in a new/interesting/refreshing/inspiring way. It’s not a TV show’s job to promote diversity and inclusion for its viewers, unless that show actually sets out to do that. It doesn’t look like 1600 Penn set out to do that. And that’s fine, they don’t have to. BUT WHY NOT?
This show had the opportunity to make any choice they wanted with the casting. But seeing how we already have an African-American family in the White House, and this is something all Americans know to be factual and true, why not keep the family African-American? They have one African-American guy on there who’s the press secretary, but I mean, why even bother? They may as well make him white too. It’s like, “Yeah you can be on the show, but you can’t play the President. I know we currently have a Black President in office, but shut up about it.”
We could’ve even had a Hispanic family, or an Asian family, or anything! There are so many races in this country, and hardly any of them are represented on television. This show could also have been about a gay President! But probably not, right? Personally, I would love to see that, but I honestly don’t trust anyone to make that show without making it about that. It would turn into “This Gay President!” instead of a show about a President who happens to be gay. So maybe that’s why they decided to keep the family Caucasian, straight and nuclear, so the show wouldn’t turn into “This Black President!” or “This Gay President!” Fine, then make a different choice. Why not make Jenna Elfman’s character President? She was cast to be the wife (but not just a wife, a “trophy wife”). Even if this show wanted to keep all the wacky relationships, kooky characters and white-washed casting the same, the President still could have been female and it’d be the same show but a little more progressive.
It just makes me sad, because we’ve come so far as a country and made some historic changes, but our entertainment doesn’t reflect that. Most of America has spent the last four years accepting and celebrating the fact that the first family doesn’t have to look like this:
But now it seems like we’re going a little backwards.
Who knows what will happen with this show. It may not last more than four episodes. But I hope it does. I hope it’s good. I hope it’s really really funny and it gets a full season and renewed for another if it deserves it. I want to work for a TV show one day, and I have a lot of friends who already do. So whenever a show gets canceled, I can’t help but think about the people who are now out of jobs and have to look for new work. So for the sake of everyone involved with this show, I hope it does well so they can keep their jobs. And if it works for a while and has a good run, I hope it gets to the point where they feel comfortable enough to take risks. And I don’t just mean casting risks, I mean any kind of risk. Just don’t make another boring sitcom, but this one happens to be set in the White House. Make something interesting. If you currently work for TV, or plan to, for the love of God, please take risks and make something interesting.
Again, I don’t know how the decision making process for TV shows work, but it seems like it’s a process based on repetition. “This thing worked before, so it’ll probably work again.” Or, “This type of audience only likes this thing, so we’ll give them more of the same.” How can anyone possibly know what audiences like and don’t like if we’re being fed the same thing year after year?
It’s like, if you’re a parent and you feed a 15 year old kid asparagus for the first time, they will probably say they don’t like it. Your response shouldn’t be “Well, I guess I’ll never feed them asparagus again, they did not respond well to that!” No, you feed that kid more asparagus because it’s good for them and you’re the cook of the house. Sure, that kid can make a meal on their own, but it’ll probably be macaroni and hot dogs until they get a little older and more adventurous with their tastes. You really should’ve been exposing that kid to asparagus, as well as a ride range of foods, when they were younger. But since you didn’t, you can still introduce little bits of it in their diet until they learn to like it. Maybe make them macaroni and hot dogs with asparagus mixed in and take it from there.
Does that analogy make sense?
Kid=Middle American TV Watchers
I brought up that analogy 1) because I’m hungry and 2) I was that kid who never ate asparagus until I was a teenager and my taste buds were fully developed. I still don’t eat asparagus (or many other vegetables for that matter), because no one made me. But I wonder how much healthier I’d be if I did. I wonder how much healthier this country would be if the entertainment that was spoon fed to us happened to be more diverse.
Not only does Diversity make everything taste better, and healthier, but Diversity adds layers to life. Thanks Sasheer for posting this!