How Apple TV+ Put Diversity at the Forefront During Its TCA Debut

TCA 2020: Streamer’s “Little America” explores different immigrant experiences, while “Visible: Out on Television” examines how the LGBTQ movement has shaped TV

Apple TV+ had to wait until the last day, but the new streaming service finally made its debut at the Television Critics Association press tour on Sunday.

The streamer went light for its first go-around, with no executive session for Jamie Erlicht and Zack Van Amburg, and paneling six shows in rapid succession and wrapped up before 2 p.m. PT. The morning began with, what else, Apple’s Genius Bar employees providing directions (not that we haven’t been here at Langham Huntington ballroom in Pasadena for the past two weeks).

But Sunday gave the tech company the chance to get upcoming shows “Little America,” “Home Before Dark,” “Visible,” “Mythic Quest,” “Central Park,” “Defending Jacob” in front of critics. Apple closed the day out with “The Morning Show.” And it what we consider to be a good thing for Apple, their day at TCA was pretty much just like everyone else who presented over the last 13 days. Well, except for trying to have all their shows do one combined scrum, but we’ll give them a newbie mulligan on that.

If there was an early theme on Sunday, it was Apple’s commitment to diversity. Apple’s TCA slate featured series about immigrant stories, as well as one focusing on LGTBQ representation.

“Little America,” which kicked off the morning, is an anthology series inspired by the true stories of immigrants featured in Epic Magazine. Kumail Nanjiani, who writes and executive producers with his wife Emily V. Gordon, spoke about why he tried to not have a political “agenda” with the show, while admitting that viewing these stories through a political lens is all but guaranteed for some viewers.

“Just by saying that immigrants are human beings with hopes, desires, likes, dislikes in this climate is a radical statement rather than just a self-evident statement of fact, obviously that part is unavoidable,” Nanjiani said. “We decided that if we’re telling a story about immigrants and we make it overtly political, you’re taking the focus away from whoever’s story you’re telling. The putting the focus on America, the political system and immigration and we didn’t want that, we wanted it to be on these people and on these stories.”

Wilson Cruz, an executive producer for “Visible: Out on Television,” said that the process of making the five-part series gave him a “real sense of just how far we have come.” Executive produced by Ryan White, Jessica Hargrave, Wanda Sykes and Wilson Cruz, the series investigates the importance of TV as an intimate medium that has shaped the American conscience, and how the LGBTQ movement has shaped television.

“Today you can turn on almost any television show and see a member of the LGBTQ community depicted. And that didn’t just happen. That happened because people risked their lives and risked their livelihoods,” he said, later adding that the road for LGBTQ people of color has been even tougher. “I’m not sure why it took so long, but I’m sure it has something to do with racism.”

Later in the day, Loren Bouchard defended his decision to, as he did with “Bob’s Burgers,” cast men to voice female roles on his new animated musical “Central Park.”

During the panel for “Mythic Quest,” which is set inside a video game company, the show’s cast spoke about being able to portray women in tech and the gaming industry overall. Imani Hakim, who stars as video game tester Dana, said that “it’s really important to have that representation in this field, because we don’t really see shows that put women in this position.” She added that the show won’t shy away from the fact that overall there isn’t the same level of parity in the industry.

Ashly Burch said she’s seen the excitement from the gaming industry overall, who lament that most people know video games through the lens of the “GamerGate” movement. “It’s sort of unfortunate that the most visible part of the industry was Gamergate, especially when you got to these conventions and you meet people and their primary emotion that they feel is excitement. They’re excited we wanted to make a show about them and their industry. They’re excited to be represented,” she said.

Aside from an executive session for HBO Max earlier this week, Apple was the only one of the streaming newcomers to bring shows to TCA. Disney+, which launched just 11 days after Apple TV+ last November, was not part of ABC’s TCA day last week, despite having their first post-“Mandalorian” scripted series — the Gina Rodriguez-produced “Diary of a Future President” — premiering this weekend.

Peacock, though not at TCA, did at least make its presence felt during the two-week confab. NBCUniversal held its formal unveiling in front of investors on the other coast on Thursday (more on that here). Don’t even ask us about Quibi.

But one could argue Disney+ doesn’t necessarily the visibility that TCA provides. After all, the service already boasted about getting more than 10 million sign up on its first day, enough to overwhelm its servers. And for Quibi, HBO Max and Peacock, we wouldn’t be surprised to see some or all of them when TCA returns this summer.

But for Apple, Sunday provided the tech giant the chance to further make its presence felt in the entertainment business. And it’s coming at a pretty important time: The company is set to report its next quarterly earnings on Jan. 28, which is when we’ll get the first hard subscriber count for Apple TV+.

Tim Baysinger

Tim Baysinger

TV Reporter • • Twitter: @tim_bays


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