When Starz’s hit series Power concluded its sixth and final season in February 2020, it finished as one of the top-rated series on premium TV and the platform’s most-watched series among African American viewers.
Power, with its diverse cast, was the network’s most successful series, but it wasn’t Starz’s only inclusive show. The programmer, in fact, overindexes on people of color and women featured in lead roles when compared to the rest of the industry, with such dramas as the Power spinoff Power Book II: Ghost, as well as P-Valley, Outlander, Hightown and American Gods, according to UCLA’s Center for Scholars & Storytellers.
Other shows formerly on the service — such as Vida, produced by Tanya Saracho and featuring a predominately Latin cast; the LeBron James-produced Survivor’s Remorse; and The Spanish Princess, developed by Emma Frost — offer evidence that Starz is no Johnny-come-lately in its on-screen commitment to diverse images and storylines.
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Not willing to sit on its diversity laurels, Starz in February announced its intentions to lead the diversity conversation both in front of and behind the camera through its #TakeTheLead campaign, which sets out to create a template for how the industry can achieve its representation goals. The network’s continual commitment to diversity and inclusion has earned Starz the CultureX Corporate Commitment to Inclusion in Television Award.
“It’s our corporate responsibility to really try to make an impact in society and to improve representation on and off the screen so that the Hollywood world looks more like the world we live in today,” Starz president and CEO Jeffrey Hirsch said. “It’s not just a tagline — it’s who we are and what we do everyday. It’s really our single focus in terms of the organization.”
Sharing Best Practices
Starz plans to launch a series of “Transparency Talks” with various media organizations and featuring thought leaders versed in diversity to discuss best practices toward improving inclusion efforts. The talks will culminate later this year in the Starz Summit, which will showcase the company’s own commitment to creative diversity through offering opportunities to the next generation of voices.
“We hope that we have great participation from the industry and the public, and really bring great conversation and debate around these topics,” Hirsch said.
Starz looks to lead by example. A recent report from the Center for Scholars & Storytellers shows just how Starz has executed its vision for greater ethnic and gender representation in all aspects of the company.
The report found that, on-air, 63% of series leads for Starz’s original series are people of color, more than 78% above the industry’s average. Further, 57.9% of character leads in its series are women, well above the 45.2% industry average.
“We have a very specific programming mandate to showcase narratives about women and underrepresented audiences on air,” Hirsch said. “I think it’s really important that if we are going to serve that audience, you need to show that you are authentic to that mission.”
Behind the camera, nearly 50% of Starz show directors are people of color — 77% more than the industry average — and 43.7% are women. More than half of the network’s showrunners are women, and 47.1% of the executive producers for its shows are people of color, both well above the industry average.
Role: President and CEO
Award: Corporate Commitment to Inclusion in Television
Why They’re Being Honored: Starz earned this recognition for its corporate commitment to inclusion on screen and behind the scenes. Shows such as Power, P-Valley and Outlander, as well as upcoming series such as Run the World, Blindspotting, Black Mafia Family, Shining Vale, Power Book II: Ghost and Serpent Queen, exemplify Starz’s commitment to on-screen inclusion. Behind the scenes, 75% of the company’s executive leadership team are women and 50% are people of color. This far exceeds the industry average.
The network’s mandate to foster more diversity within its company also extends to the executive offices, Hirsch said. Three quarters of its executive leadership team are women, with 50% of those women people of color.
He added the numbers are a great starting point, but he hopes to continually improve on them going forward. “It’s a mandate that we use to make all of these decisions in the company,” he said. “I do believe that these numbers will continue to increase as we start to put more shows on the air that fit our mandate.”
Indeed, already in development for Starz is another Power spinoff, Raising Kanan; the Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson-produced series Black Mafia Family; as well as new drama series Shining Vale from writer Sharon Horgan and starring Courteney Cox; The Serpent Queen, based on the life of French Queen Catherine de Medici; and comedy series Run the World, created by African-American producer Leigh Davenport.
“I’m very excited about the slate of programming and I’m eager to get into it,” Hirsch said.”
R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.
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