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In partnership with Google, University of Southern California’s Signal Analysis and Interpretation Laboratory (SAIL), and with support from Nielsen, this report investigates the status of inclusion and representation in scripted television in the U.S., and how it has evolved over the past 12 years. Using Google Research’s machine learning innovations, we infer human-centric signals at scale, including perceived gender expression, perceived age, perceived skin tone, and detected visual speech. Our main findings reveal:

  • The share of female characters on screen is up, though male characters still occupy about 16 percentage points more screen time.
  • Screen time is increasing for male and female characters with medium and dark skin tones, but the majority of screen time is occupied by male and female characters with a light skin tone.
  • Visual speaking time has increased for female characters with a dark skin tone by about 1.2% per year, the highest rate of all race and gender groups. However, their overall speaking time when they are on screen is still the lowest.
  • Older men but younger women dominate on screen, though the gap has decreased over time.
  • Older female characters remain rarely seen.


Based on these findings, we make the following recommendations: 

  • Change things up. One of the most direct ways to broaden inclusion in popular entertainment media is to grow the casts of long-running shows to include more people of color with diverse skin tones. Popular scripted TV shows are often shows that have been on the air for many years. Add to these casts with more diverse and authentic characters and storylines, including minor roles and background characters.
  • Diversify behind the scenes. More diversity behind the scenes leads to more diversity in front of the camera. Studios can hire more diverse writers and directors, but they can also get at the root of the problem by supporting or creating programs that address deeper pipeline issues.
  • Eliminate the age gap. As our report found, older men but younger women dominate the screen. For decades, entertainment media has paired younger women with older men for flirty or romantic storylines. Keep the age gap in mind when casting roles for such storylines; doing this can reduce the large disparity between older men and women on screen.
  • Challenge expectations about who can play what. This report found female characters over 60 are rarely seen. To bridge this gap, consider older women, especially women of color with diverse skin tones, to play characters in male-dominated occupations, such as criminal justice, and even in background roles.

Photo credit: Anderson Ross Photography Inc/DigitalVision via Getty Images