At the 2013 TCA Winter Press Tour, creator Amy Sherman-Palladino addressed the issue after the panel presentation. “Our diversity mission is we care about diversity,” Sherman-Palladino says. “We try to do the best that we can and make sure our world is representative.”
To that end the show paid attention to diversity in the casting of two new recurring characters for the second half of the first season — “So You Think You Can Dance” winner Jeanine Mason plays a talented new ballerina who arrives in Paradise and Niko Pepaj landed the role of her hunky brother — and continues to use a diverse range of real dance students as extras and featured dancers.
“The class that we use is Marat Daukayev School of Ballet in Los Angeles, and they’re an incredible bunch of kids,” Sherman-Palladino says. “I wanted kids who all have the same technique. You look around that class — when I was in class it could be white sheet Aryan nation. Ballet was a white, white world. This class is not like that. They’ve got kids from all over the world.”
“Part of the reason I love going through Marat is because they were training all sorts of girls with all sorts of bodies and all sorts of backgrounds,” she continues. “It’s a fun interesting world and it shows that ballet has actually evolved and is changing.”
But beyond defending her own show, Sherman-Palladino says it’s important to address the industry overall: “The weird thing about diversity is every now and then you’ll get this note that says ‘This person’s diverse!’ And I look at that person and I’m like, ‘Really? OK. They live next door to a Chinese restaurant? Is that why they’re diverse? I’m not quite sure if that’s diverse but OK!'”
“I know the networks are under a lot of pressure and I think that’s a good thing,” she continues. “I think the networks still need to develop shows. Being a writer who has pitched shows for diverse actors and has not been able to sell shows like that because they’re just for whatever reason not on the agenda, the pressure can not only be ‘Make sure that everybody who plays a plumber on the show is diverse.’ It’s a little weird. They need to develop those shows. Where is ‘The Cosby Show’? There should be a ‘Cosby Show’!”
Sherman-Palladino recalls the challenge she faced pitching shows with diverse leads in the past: “For years I wanted to develop something with Regina King because I think she’s so funny,” Now she’s on ‘Southland’ and she’s so good, she’s doing all that drama. But she’s untapped comedy gold. She’s funny! And it never happened. Maybe it will someday.
Just don’t expect Sherman-Palladino to get into a feud with “Grey’s Anatomy” creator Shonda Rhimes over the issue. “It’s frustrating because I acknowledge that [diversity is] what everybody wants,” Sherman-Palladino says. “I want that too. What are you gonna do? Get into a pissing match on Twitter? It doesn’t work that way. I think keeping the pressure on is a good thing. We need to keep the pressure on ourselves.”