Young Hollywood Impact Report
The talent — aged 25 and under — on Variety’s annual list are platform agnostic (and so are the adult reps on the list who’ve impacted the careers of young performers). Showbiz finds stars almost anywhere — and it’s an exciting time when Youtubers move into traditional, while the music biz can mine various platforms for exciting new talent. On our Up Next report, we focus on talent poised for a breakthrough.
But, she notes, “More and more creators have become savvy to the fact that audiences want characters that reflect themselves, and our network wants to reflect our audience in our characters. So creators are coming in with characters who come from different ethnic backgrounds or experiences.”
One such creator is Roberto Aguirre-sacasa, showrunner for “Riverdale” and the upcoming Netflix series “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.” “I’m Latinx,” he says. “So definitely we talked about diversity when we pitched the show, in every room we pitched it, too. If we had tried to do an all- Caucasian cast on ‘Riverdale’ … we wouldn’t have been allowed to get it made. That’s not how television works anymore.”
This embrace of diversity is the result of years of slow tectonic shifts.
“Technology is opening things up in a different way,” says Li Lai, founder of diversity-focused reviews website Mediaversity. “Twenty years ago, you had to create media that attracted a big, mainstream audience. But streaming has made everything a little more a la carte, and you can make money by being more niche.”
Another contributing factor is that millennial and post-millennial generations are far more diverse than their parents or grandparents.
“Older generations demanded tolerance; this generation wants acceptance,” says Shelly Sumpter Gillyard, executive VP for Nickelodeon talent, music and events. “Shows have to reflect what’s happening in society — and young audiences are demanding it.”
Creators say it no longer makes any sense to pursue a non- diverse show, in more ways than one.
“We have an extra responsibility with the younger generation to show what the world looks like to them,” says Sean Cunningham, co- creator (with Mark Dworkin) of Nick’s “Knight Squad.” “We don’t think of it as a ‘selling point’ when we’re pitching a show. It’s way more important than being a ‘selling point.’”
But to Lauren Iungerich, co- creator (with Eddie Gonzalez and Jeremy Haft) and showrunner of Netflix’s “On My Block,” diversity is just one element of a successful show. “I don’t see it as being pro or con,” she says. “People are looking for great stories. Of course people would like to show more representation across the board, but I think it always comes down to the show, and the stories.”
That philosophy makes business sense, too. “If you look at content as a pie, all of the slices you want to put together include being a strong ratings driver, a big audience hit,” says Nina Hahn, Nickelodeon senior VP, international development. “One of those slices is diversity. The magic of all that is when those slices come together.”
But, says Joanna Johnson, showrunner of Freeform’s “Good Trouble,” “it’s a slow process. There’s still a lot of tokenism in television — there’s still a reticence to put darker-skinned people on television. We’re not there at all. But what’s changed is this pushing for diversity.”
Still, for Mediaversity’s Lai, it’s about the bigger picture. “I’m glad that diversity makes money,” she says. “It’s more interesting and it better targets who’s watching TV right now. But it’s wider than ‘does diversity sell?’ This is the world, and if you want to be a good artist and creative storyteller, you find your audience — and you talk to them.”