Actress Meagan Good appreciates full well why many African-Americans can’t help but compare her new NBC show, Deception, with the runaway ABC hit Scandal.
For nearly 30 years, no black woman was cast as the lead of a major network drama. That’s all changed within the last 18 months, as two shows with black female stars now appear on prime time, and more appear to be in the pipeline.
“It is what it is,” says Good, known for her roles in the films Think Like a Man and Eve’s Bayou, of her first regular TV role. “I can’t ignore the fact that there were no shows for so long with women of color in the lead.” But she insists the attention is not only about race. “Deception is a really good, well-written show. That’s the key with both these shows: being a part of something that is real quality. That’s what any actress wants, no matter her color.”
Deception revolves around the murder of a rich socialite and the ensuing investigation into her family. Good plays a close family friend and San Francisco cop working on the case. Scandal, meanwhile, focuses on the life of Olivia Pope, a crisis consultant and former White House press officer. The show is based on the real life of lawyer and White House aide Judy Smith.
Both shows present a stark contrast to the frequently demeaning images of black women on reality television. Paradoxically, Good’s husband, Columbia Pictures senior vice president of production, Devon Franklin, says he believes that reality TV did open up an opportunity for black women to move into other roles. “I think for all the negative that can be said about reality television, those shows put a lot of black women out in front, and people watched them in large numbers,” says Franklin, who produced Will Smith’s The Pursuit of Happyness and The Karate Kid. “I think the industry in both film and television took note of that and figured out there is an audience for shows and movies that don’t feature the traditional faces.” The couple say they plan to work together on future projects to ensure that more balance and inspirational programming make it to the big and small screen.
Scandal was the first to take advantage of that audience, and industry veterans say show’s success should allow Deception and other new shows featuring an actor of color in the lead some much needed breathing room to prosper.
“I think because of Scandal, shows with diverse leads will get more of a chance to do well now,” said African-American producer Debra Martin Chase, who has a production deal with ABC. “They know the potential is there for it to do well now because they’ve seen it happen. I’m certainly hoping to put more shows out there with women of color and more diverse casts. I think Scandal has opened the door for that and more.”
Martin Chase, who also produced the Princess Diaries films, adds that both Scandal and Deception have introduced story lines mainstream audiences aren’t as accustomed to seeing. “Both of the shows also show black women involved with men of all races,” she notes. “Black women as an object of desire by both white and black men on prime-time television is very rare and marks a big change in the way women of color are perceived from the standpoint of beauty and attractiveness.”
Still, no matter the comparisons with the popular ABC show that airs on Thursday night, Deception has some big shoes to fill if it hopes to secure Scandal-like success. The Kerry Washington–led show continues to rake in impressive audience ratings, even during its holiday break. Last week’s rerun brought in close to 8 million viewers, more than its winter finale numbers of more than 7 million. Last week’s ratings for the first episode of Deception brought in close to 3 million viewers.
Still, 34-year-old Joan Warrington, a social worker from South Orange, N.J., says she happily tuned in to watch Deception just because of Good’s presence as the lead and to support the new direction network television appears to be taking.
“It’s refreshing to see a black women working as a professional on television and not rolling on the floor fighting with someone who looks like her,” says Warrington. “It was so wonderful to see Scandal and now Deception, with black women in charge in doing things.”