On Tuesday, NBC Universal took the stage at the Television Critics Association (TCA) conference to talk about its roster of upcoming series, and significantly, its goal of increasing the diverse roles that appear on its different series.
Timeless is one of the network’s newest shows, co-created by Shawn Ryan (The Shield) and Eric Kripke (Supernatural), and follows a couple of investigators as they travel back through time to try and stop a criminal from changing the course of history. It’s a genre-heavy show, scripted by two heavyweight writers known for their work on action-packed and oftentimes violent series. While those elements will exist in Timeless, one of the aspects they’re most excited about is exploring issues relevant in the world today, like racism and inequality, through the concept of time travel.
"We want to use female and minority faces to bring a fresh feel to history," Kripke said. "We want to be able to create a commentary on issues that are happening today."
One of the ways Kripke plans to do that is by using their main character, Rufus (Malcolm Barrett) as a vessel to to revisit periods in history fraught with racism and racial oppression, and societies openly repressive of other minority groups and the violence and harassment that involved.
"Malcolm’s character definitely goes up against some racism throughout his travels," Kripke said. "We wanted to make it as realistic as possible, and going back 50 years or 100 years and not exploring that side of history would be unrealistic."
When asked how he felt about carrying that weight on his shoulders, Barrett said that it was a question he received often as it was a hot topic. While thankful he got the opportunity to portray a character like Rufus in a show like Timeless on a network as widely watched as NBC, he had to admit that he didn’t have anything to do with the writing and couldn’t add anything on top of that.
"Anyone that’s ever felt discriminated against will be able to really relate to this character"
Race isn’t the only form of visible minority group that will be focused on, either. During the panel for the network’s upcoming dramedy, This Is Us, which was created by Crazy, Stupid, Love writer Dan Fogelman, the subject of having an overweight actress front and center on the show and her weight being a focal point of the character’s arc came up.
Kate (Chrissy Metz) plays an overweight actress who decides she wants to spend time focusing her attention on losing some of the weight and taking back control of her life. While quite a bit of the attention on Kate will be about her weight and how it affects her relationships with other people — and her relationship with herself — Metz said they were in no way in the business of fat shaming people. Instead, Metz argued, much of Kate’s development comes in learning to appreciate her body and find a confidence within herself she didn’t know existed.
"We want to use female and minority faces"
For Metz, being able to play an overweight character on a network like NBC, which still garners tens of millions of viewers each week, was incredibly liberating and she was honored to take on a role that she said many other actors might have shied way from.
"I don’t know many plus-size women who are starring on a television series on a network that’s going to be seen by so many people that are overweight themselves," Metz said. "Anyone that’s ever felt discriminated against will be able to really relate to this character, I think."
One of the aspects Metz loved about Kate’s character was that she wasn’t this sad, overweight girl and that’s what defined her. She’s vibrant, sexy and full of confidence who decides she wants to get healthier on her own merit and not because someone told her to. In one episode, there’s a scene where Metz has to strip down to practically nothing and she said while that may have been upsetting or unthinkable for some actors, she discovered a whole new confidence in herself after doing it, and considers it one of the proudest moments in her career.
"The fact that they’re addressing being overweight and still being attractive and finding yourself throughout the story is what drew me to her," Metz said. "It’s definitely a sense of responsibility I have and I hope to bring, you know, hope to people."
Both Timeless and This Is Us will have their series premieres this fall, with the first airing on Oct. 3 and the second airing Sept. 20. Both will air at 10 p.m. ET on NBC.