Eric Deggans

In avoiding one racial controversy, Emmy voters created another one.

Voting for 2020 Primetime Emmy nominations got underway in early July, just as the nation was focused on the anti-racism reckoning begun by the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. The general public was seeking out films and TV shows centered on Black people and issues to learn more; TV critics like me wondered how that dynamic might affect the Emmys.

Ramona Gray Amaro has a spot in reality TV history. She is the first Black woman to compete on CBS's unscripted hit series Survivor, which took 16 people and isolated them on an island in Malaysia, vying for a million-dollar prize, on the show's first season in 2000, Survivor: Borneo.

But when she saw how she was depicted in the show, which takes footage filmed on the island and edits it into episodes aired months later on network TV, Amaro also felt she was also one of the first Black people stereotyped by Survivor.

America's reckoning on race has come to TV animation, as stars Jenny Slate and Kristen Bell, who are white, have agreed to stop voicing characters who are biracial.

And while some fans may be disappointed to see their favorite performers leaving TV shows they enjoy, the moves also end a subtle way in which actors of color have been marginalized. It's an attention-getting moment when performers have recognized their white privilege and moved to end it.

If there is one emotion that hangs over our world these days — other than fear and anger, perhaps — it is grief.

There's the grief that comes from watching the death of George Floyd captured on a bystander's video, pleading for his mother and his breath, while a police officer kneels with a knee on his neck.

There's grief over what that moment said about police and the policing of black people, along with grief over the protests and violence in some American cities as people demand answers.

ABC may believe it has faced down some criticism by naming Matt James as the first black man to star in its dating "reality TV" franchise The Bachelor. But its challenge in dismantling the show's racist and sexist elements has only begun.

My longtime criticism of the Bachelor franchise speaks to the heart of the show's design. It is a princess fantasy, built around the idea of a woman finding fulfillment by landing the perfect man, filtered through an upper-middle class, predominantly white lens.

Since 1989, Cops has made riveting television from verité footage of arrests and emergency calls — often capturing scenes of police interacting with clueless suspects — filmed by riding along with police officers.

But the long-running unscripted show has been canceled after 32 seasons. The Paramount Network dropped it amid widespread protests nationwide about policing.

The show's 33rd season was scheduled to debut next Monday.

I nearly lost it when the number dropped from 50 to 10.

My mother's church pastor tried to be steady and consoling, but I could hear the emotion at the edges of his voice. His news: Instead of the 50 mourners we hoped to host, just 10 people would be allowed to attend her funeral on March 28, courtesy of the latest social distancing requirements laid down by state and local officials. Including church staff.

After more than a month of stay-at-home orders triggered by the coronavirus pandemic, it may feel as if you have watched every bit of new and classic TV that your subscriptions allow. But there's actually more to be found, thanks to special free packages and events organized by media companies eager to earn your loyalty. This includes plenty of educational content to inspire children.

We've pulled together a list of interesting TV events and free stuff, mostly on streaming.

Apple TV+

Can you make a habit of killing really evil people — say, unrepentant Nazis hiding in America — and still hold onto your soul?

That's one of the biggest questions at the heart of Amazon Prime Video's electric new series Hunters. It's a splashy story about a scrappy band of investigators tracking down a secret cabal of Nazis in the 1970s that occasionally is a lot more fun than it should be, given the subject at hand.

Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Michael Chabon has been a devoted Star Trek fan since he was 10 years old — but when people ask whether it's a "dream come true" to be a showrunner and executive producer on Star Trek: Picard he says no.

"I say 'no' because I never would have had the ... chutzpah to dream that," Chabon says. "I would have been happy just shaking Patrick Stewart's hand and telling him how much I loved him on Star Trek. But to be able to actually write words that he will speak and act? It's incredible."

NPR's TV critic and Pop Culture Happy Hour hosts pick 19 of their favorite television and streaming series of the year.

Chernobyl (HBO)

The classic graphic novel Watchmen – an explicit, realistic take on what the world might be like if people actually put on costumes and masks to fight crime — tackled many social and political issues: American imperialism. Nuclear tensions with the Soviet Union. The corruption of a President Nixon who stayed in office for five terms.

It's an old tradition that endures, even amid the year-round deluge of programming brought to us by the age of streaming. It is the fall TV preview.

Turns out fall is the perfect time to refocus on television after a summer filled with vacations and outdoor distractions. So our pop culture team collected the coolest TV shows coming your way over the next few months as a guide through the madness. We haven't seen all of these programs yet, but we've learned enough to know they're worth checking out.

This story is part of American Anthem, a yearlong series on songs that rouse, unite, celebrate and call to action. Find more at NPR.org/Anthem.

This was the toughest TV show for me to watch in a long while.

When They See Us is director/writer/producer Ava DuVernay's searing, four-part drama about five black and Latino boys who were railroaded into falsely confessing to the most notorious gang rape in New York City history. But it wasn't difficult viewing for its violence—in fact, the Netflix series is very careful in how it presents many instances of assault, with the most grisly details left to viewers' imagination.

There was a bittersweet quality to ABC's triumphant two-hour live sitcom special on Wednesday night. At least, for me there was.

On the sweet side, watching talented stars like Jamie Foxx and Woody Harrelson re-create classic scripts from All in the Family and The Jeffersons was a shot of pure, uncut nostalgia. There are few spectacles as entertaining as these guys mugging their ways through impressions of classic characters like George Jefferson and Archie Bunker — in live performance.

Tim Conway built a career playing goofballs who rarely took center stage — but he often helped turn good television shows into TV classics. The comic actor, who appeared on shows ranging from The Carol Burnett Show to SpongeBob SquarePants, died Tuesday morning, May 14. The cause was complications from a long illness, according to his representative, Howard Bragman. He was 85.

HBO's Leaving Neverland is ultimately a tribute to the power of personal testimony.

Over four hours, the film slowly excavates the stories of James Safechuck and Wade Robson. The two men each met Michael Jackson as children in the 1980s and allege the pop star sexually abused them for years while showering their families with attention and gifts.

Pepsi should have chosen a different slogan for its ads during this year's Super Bowl.

The company's slogan was "More than OK." Well, not really. In fact, most of the high-priced commercials we saw between the football plays were just OK. They were so careful to avoid scandal and backlash that they felt leached of originality or bite.

That's pretty much what Greg Lyons, chief marketing officer of PepsiCo Beverages North America, predicted when I asked him last week what this year's spots would look like: nothing controversial.

Hundreds and hundreds of series air every year. They are good and they are lousy; they are new and they are old. There's too much television for a comprehensive ranking, so Glen Weldon, Linda Holmes and Eric Deggans round up 16 of their favorite shows from 2018.

The Americans (FX)

Stan Lee was always a hero of mine; a feeling I share with many comic book fans. But it wasn't until recently – and especially following his death Monday at age 95 – that I began to realize that some of my love for him came specifically from my perspective as a black kid who grew up reading comic books in the 1970s.

Note: Spoilers abound for the upcoming and past seasons of House of Cards.

I wish I could say definitively that the #MeToo-fueled elimination of star Kevin Spacey from Netflix's House of Cards raised the political drama's game for its final season.

Before the Emmy and Grammy awards, before hosting the Academy Awards and before earning status as one of the best stand-up comics of his generation, Chris Rock had nearly fallen out of big-time show business.

Back in the early 1990s, Rock was known mostly a protege of Eddie Murphy who got fired from Saturday Night Live, worked as a stand-up comic and popped up in movies like New Jack City and CB4. Another brother who almost made it.

Then came Bring the Pain.

This story is part of American Anthem, a yearlong series on songs that rouse, unite, celebrate and call to action. Find more at NPR.org/Anthem.


Ask Freedom Singer Rutha Mae Harris, and she'll tell you plainly: You can't just sing "This Little Light of Mine." You gotta shout it:

"Everywhere I go, Lord, I'm gonna let it shine
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine!"

Roseanne Barr has just given a master class on how not to apologize for a massive public flameout.

Appearing on Fox News pundit Sean Hannity's show Thursday, Barr claimed the backlash over a widely condemned racist tweet that led to ABC canceling her show was a huge misunderstanding.

The tweet implied that senior Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett was the offspring of the Muslim Brotherhood and an ape. Barr's defense? She didn't know Jarrett — who was born in Iran to American parents — was an African-American woman.

The best thing about seeing previously marginalized groups claim their own space in pop culture is it often ends up showing — in the most compelling ways — how alike we all really are.

Now that ABC's Roseanne reboot has wrapped up its unexpectedly successful nine-episode run, it's worth asking a simple question:

What just happened?

What didn't happen was what some pundits feared when the show debuted: ABC positioning a hit TV show to embrace and normalize what they believe are the worst aspects of Donald Trump's ideology. Instead, star Roseanne Barr used her personal support for the president and the character's admission she voted for Trump to pull off the TV season's most masterful head fake.

Finally, we no longer have to use the word "allegedly."

A court of law has delivered a verdict that the court of public opinion seemed to have already reached: Bill Cosby, 80, has been found guilty of three counts of aggravated indecent assault, resulting from allegations first made by Andrea Constand back in 2005.

The public eventually saw more than 60 women accuse "America's dad" of sexual misconduct and assault, with many alleging he surreptitiously drugged them first. This is the first of those stories to get a verdict.

Here's the good news about Westworld 2.0: It's a little easier to follow than the first cycle.

That's a welcome development, because the debut season of HBO's sci-fi-infused drama about artificial people in the world's trippiest theme park seemed to twist itself in knots to keep viewers guessing. Worst of all, the effort didn't work: Many fans guessed the show's biggest plot twists weeks before they were revealed onscreen.

The first season ended more than a year ago, so here's a refresher before we get into Sunday's episode. (Yes, there are spoilers below.)

One of my greatest lessons in the power of representation on TV came from watching an episode of Scandal.

In fall 2013, I spent an evening with a group of black and brown women watching an installment from the show's third season. We were gathered in a comfortable, tastefully decorated town house in Washington, D.C. Spirits were high — everyone was ready to watch political fixer supreme Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) tackle the latest bizarro crisis invented by series creator Shonda Rhimes.

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