Fall TV's Diversity Report Card: Robin Thede Grades The New Shows

Robin Thede is so sick of firsts — specifically, when they're in relation to television. She doesn’t want to hear that Viola Davis was the first Black woman to ever win an Emmy for being the lead actress in a drama. Not when it's happening in 2015. She definitely doesn’t want to read that Aziz Ansari became the first South Asian actor to ever receive an Emmy nomination for a leading role on a television series in 2016.

At this point, Thede even wishes she didn’t earn the title of being the first Black head writer of a late night show last year, for the recently canceled The Nightly Show, because, like all these other firsts, it just seems like it should have happened sooner.

“I still am the only one to hold that title,” Thede tells Refinery29 over the phone, noting there are only eight female writers of color out of 155 writers in late night, and three of them were at The Nightly Show. “That makes me sad. That should not have happened so late in life.”

But despite Thede being annoyed by the timing of so many recent firsts, she also knows they’re never too late or too little. This year’s Emmys were the most diverse, ever. For the first time in the award show’s 68-year history, all six lead-acting categories featured people of color.

Aziz Ansari didn’t make history winning Lead Actor in a Comedy, but instead took home the prize for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series with his Master Of None partner Alan Yang for an episode that dealt with being the children of immigrants.

It was Yang’s speech that seemed to say it all about the work that still needs to be done in the pop culture diversity department. “There's 17 million Asian Americans in this country, and there's 17 million Italian Americans. They have The Godfather, Goodfellas, Rocky, The Sopranos. We got Long Duk Dong," Yang said. “We have a long way to go. But I know we can get there.”

The new lineup of shows premiering this fall includes its own list of firsts — both in front of and behind the camera — and gives hope that next year’s Emmys will push the diversity bar even higher. They may be infuriating, but firsts also mean things are moving in the right direction.

“I think there are still people in this world that have a very myopic view of how women spend their time or how Black people spend their time, how trans people spend their time,” Thede says. “There are more shows opening up that world to people and saying, ‘Oh, it’s totally normal. Got it.’”

It’s why Thede shared her totally normal guide to what she’ll be watching this fall with Refinery29: the shows that aren't just diverse, but, in her opinion, are "normalizing" TV to make it look like the world around us. This list includes mostly new shows, but there are some old ones she recommends you catch up on.

Be warned, there will be more than a few firsts included in this guide, but Thede agrees, all of them are worth celebrating.