I Want My TV In Color: How Social Media and Millennials are Shaping Our Regular TV Programming

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Published on December 6, 2016

If you found yourself noticing how many a television show in the last five years has someone who looks, talks, loves, and prays like you, it just may just be possible that Twitter fingers had a massive hand in that.

This year, the roster of new comedies and dramas being released on network, cable television, and streaming sites have gotten smarter and more catered to not just one group of people, but many. Whether it’s  a show about the first woman in the MLB, a comedy centered around an Asian family undergoing massive culture shocks, or a superhero drama about a bulletproof black man (something America needed as of late), these shows are shattering ceilings and setting a new standard when it comes to who and what we see when we tune into our TVs.

While campaigns for more diverse television came years ago, CBS received backlash earlier this year after unveiling their roster of TV programming for the Fall 2016 season. Their lineup has as many as six new shows starring, you guessed it, middle-aged white men (eight, to be exact). While nobody is stating that these shows would be necessarily bad, it’s simply a matter of originality, seeing as middle-aged white men has ruled televisions for decades, both in front of and behind the camera.

Network President Glenn Geller spoke out about the controversy during the Television Critics Association Press Tour over the summer. “We’re very mindful at CBS about the importance of diversity and inclusion. We need to do better and we know it,” he said. It should be noted that their returning shows offers a much varied bench of players amongst their comedies and dramas. So why are we seeing new shows in 2016 that reflect leads that more represent the 1960s?

“Most of the people that control media are still the people that control media then,” HCC Sociology professor Saulo Colon explained. “But I think it’s also, well who do they think the audience is? Their viewpoint might be based on who they think is watching.”

Colon went on to explain that the corporate side of television – i.e. the head honchos that get the final say as to what gets put on their networks – have a mindset that tells them no one outside a certain group of people would ever watch their network. But social media tells us otherwise.

The television that we watch needs to mirror the people who do the watching. 

It actually tells network executives everything they need to know as far as what shows are people watching and why they are watching them. It’s just one of the three factors Colon tells us is a recipe for the changes we have seen over course of the last few years. “Technology has allowed an interaction between the audience – just to put it in general, the public, the people – and all of these cultural products…whatever we see,” Colon commented. “ I don’t know if it’s necessarily millennials, I thinks it’s maybe more of the technology that we have in this time period, which is, in a sense, millennial technology.”

Another factor when it comes to how this generation has shaped the media is how they are more diverse than the last. “The demographics [are] different. You guys are a larger group. The millennials are way more diverse,” Colon said. This could be a testament to how much more people of different backgrounds are watching TV and are on social media.

Lastly, the latest generation of tweets, blog posts, and angry rants on fallen TV characters is a result of progress that has been in the making decades ago. “You’re the product of people who have actually started to change some of those cultures.” Colon also mentioned the point that seeing as a recent kindergarten class had 51 percent of their students were children of color, this is literally the class of the future, where “diversity is majority.”

While people often brush off the subject of representation in the media as hogwash and something people just need to get over, it’s important to see faces that look like you when it may consume many hours in an average week for many Americans.

Mindy Phothirath, an avid watcher of television, is more indifferent when it comes to having TV characters of her background. “It doesn’t matter. I have no negative comments or feeling towards them for acting in the shows that I watch.” And while she does not write about changes in casting, she does post “sometimes when there is a death or a cliffhanger.”

With every orange-clad prison inmate, love interest for a superhero, and artificially inseminated virgin, a stereotype is dismantled, a mirror is held up from the TV screen to your living room, and it is made sure that everybody of every creed and walk of life is represented in a positive light.

“There are shows on family networks that have LGBT and diverse families,” Phothirath commented. “It’s interesting and awesome to see the diversity in television.”