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First Black-ish, now How to Get Away with Murder — ABC’s embrace of diversity seems to be a hit with viewers

Viola Davis stars as Annalise Keating in How to Get Away with Murder.
Viola Davis stars as Annalise Keating in How to Get Away with Murder.
(Craig Sjodin/ABC)

Before it even premiered, How to Get Away With Murder, ABC's new show starring Viola Davis as a renegade law professor, was dubbed "as close to a guaranteed hit as any show is at the beginning of its season." And last night's pilot didn't disappoint. The first episode was seen by an estimated 14 million viewers — a whopping 10 million more than tuned in to NBC's Parenthood, which premiered in the same time slot. In the 18-49 demographic — which is the one advertisers really care about — the show, created by Peter Nowalk and executive produced by Grey's Anatomy/Scandal creator Shonda Rhimes, earned an unbelievable 3.8 rating.

How to Get Aways with Murder's success comes one night after the premiere of Black-ish, another new ABC series led by people of color, outperformed expectations. As my colleague Kelsey McKinney noted, Black-ish's 10.78 million viewership was only slightly down from its lead-in, Modern Family, at 10.93 million. "That's the best premiere night for any show gifted with the post-Modern Family slot in four years," writes McKinney.

At a July press conference, Paul Lee, president of ABC Entertainment Group, said that diversity is a "mission statement" of the network. "We think that's our job, and in a way that's not so much diversity as authenticity if you're reflecting America."

It's too early to predict whether Black-ish and How to Get Away With Murder have the staying power to draw audiences back on a weekly basis. But for now, it's worth noting that prioritizing diversity in entertainment seems to have paid off for ABC.

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