“The Cosby Show was the first — and last — television series starring an African-American cast to become a worldwide hit. But the U.S. success of shows like Fox’s Empire, ABC’s Black-ish and How to Get Away With Murder, and, in the pay TV sphere, Starz’ Power and Survivor’s Remorse, is beginning to attract the attention of international broadcasters and is opening up the global market for more diverse primetime programming.
Succeeding on the global market is the last glass ceiling. Despite diverse casts on international ratings juggernauts like CSI: Miami, Grey’s Anatomy and NCIS, no series in the past 30 years with an African-American lead — much less an entirely black cast — has become a worldwide hit.
A Fox executive that first pitched Empire to global networks says if the show had had an all-white cast “it would have sold out immediately.” Starz executive VP worldwide distribution Gene George admits selling Power and Survivor’s Remorse — the latter a half-hour comedy about a basketball star from the ghetto made good — has been a struggle.
“It’s been hard to get [international broadcasters] to think outside the box,” he admits.
But then the shows hit the U.S. airwaves and everything changed.
Empire‘s phenomenal ratings — viewership increased week-over-week, every week, closing with a season high of nearly 17 million total viewers — convinced buyers to take another look.
“When it started to air — every week it grew and grew — many important clients of ours have contacted us to rethink what they were doing,” Marion Edwards, 20th Century Fox Television Distribution’s president of international TV, told THR in March.
Empire is now sold out in virtually every major territory worldwide. Big terrestrial broadcasters like Germany’s ProSiebenSat.1, Network Ten in Australia and France’s M6 — networks with market positions similar to Fox’s in the U.S. — have acquired the series. In the U.K., where U.S. shows of any kind have a hard time getting on major networks, it went to E4, Channel 4’s smaller digital pay TV outlet. Fox International Channels, which is a smaller pay TV player in most foreign territories, has picked up the show for multiple global markets including Italy, Poland, the Netherlands and South Africa.
Empire has even conquered Asia, a notoriously difficult market for U.S. shows, with deals for such key territories as China, Japan, Korea and Hong Kong.
ABC has had similar success with How to Get Away With Murder and Black-ish…”