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NAACP Points Out Lack of Diversity on TV

June 15th, 2006 1:33pm EDT favorite Add to My News
Dennis Haysbert stars in drama The UnitAccording to the NAACP, with the cancellation of the Bernie Mac Show, for the first time in recent history, there is not a comedy with an African-American lead character left on the big four networks. When it comes to returning sitcoms and the announced new comedies, African Americans are missing in action.

While the genre is not as popular as it once was, there is not a shortage of sitcoms on the schedule. Out of the nearly 20 sitcoms on network television this fall, it is unconscionable that there is not an African American lead among them.

When you take into account the recent merger of UPN and the WB the television landscape becomes even more bleak for the hundreds of African Americans and minorities who have made their careers working on television comedies. While it is unfair to put the burden of diversity on television on the new CW; at least there you can find a Sunday night block of African American comedies. UPN had been the only network to actively program for an African American audience. The detrimental impact of the CW’s formation is indisputable. Five of the eight African-American comedies UPN aired (One On One, Half & Half, "Eve," "Cuts," and "Love Inc."), did not make the CW fall line up.

Many of the UPN shows had African American show runners and predominantly black casts. They also employed many minority writers, directors, technicians and crafts people. The harsh reality is that with each cance led show upwards of two hundred people may lose their jobs. Now that those shows are canceled, the NAACP is concerned not only about where people will find work, but how long it will take to recover lost ground. If these writers, actors, directors and crafts persons were considered equally for other industry jobs and opportunities, then we would have no issue. But, regrettably, this is not the way it works in Hollywood.

On the one hour dramatic front, bolstered by the success of series like ER, CSI, Law and Order, Grey’s Anatomy and Lost, every network can point to shows on their schedule and count diverse roles. When it comes to one hour dramas the emphasis is principally on multiethnic ensemble casts.

ABC continues to be a progressive leader when it comes to diversity in dramatic programming. Although, there is some consternation in our community over the way the Applewhites’ story line ended on Desperate Housewives -- murderous young black man hiding out in suburbia. Launching the largest number of new scripted shows, ABC continues to build on its successful line up that includes "Lost" and "Grey’s Anatomy." Betty the Ugly is executive produced by Salma Hayek and has Vanessa Williams as a series regular. Men in Trees, with series regular John Amos, takes place in Alaska and seems to provide an organic opportunity to include Native Americans. The Nine features Chi McBride. Six Degrees, with Jay Hernandez, has a diverse cast and a theme that demonstrates how all our lives are interconnected. Day Break is a mid-season replacement with a young diverse cast starring Taye Diggs.

We applaud CBS and its hit series "The Unit," starring Dennis Haysbert. This is currently the only one hour drama starring an African American male lead on a major network in the fall line up. While minorities are increasingly being cast as ensemble players in one hour dramatic series, "The Unit" is an ensemble show which promotes Haysbert as its star. Spike Lee directed the new James Woods courtroom drama, "Shark." "Jericho," is a one-hour drama about the survivors of a nuclear holocaust. It takes place in a small town in Kansas. Lennie James is a series regular. We hope he is not the only minority survivor and that we will see Native Americans, Hispanics and African Americans alive and well in Kansas. Building on its popular "CSI" franchise, at least on the dramatic front, CBS continues its commitment to diversity on television.

NBC builds on its hugely successful Law and Order franchise. All of its new dramas have diverse casts "Kidnapped" starring Delroy Lindo along with Mykelti Williamson and Carmen Ejogo. Other encouraging shows to watch for includes "Heroes," this one-hour drama chronicles the lives of a multi ethnic group of ordinary people who find out they have some extraordinary abilities. There is the sports drama based on the film Friday Night Lights. The highly anticipated "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" has D.L. Hughley as a series regular.

FOX has the most popular and most diverse show on television, American Idol. FOX continues the successful formula it found in having a diverse ensemble cast on shows like Prison Break and House. This fall they are launching "Vanished" starring Ming Na, one of the few Asian series regulars on network television this season. Tim Story directed the pilot and will executive produce "Standoff." "Justice," a courtroom drama from Jerry Bruckheimer features Eamonn Walker as one of four disparate lawyers who are the "dream team" that tackle the most controversial and newsworthy cases. FOX’s strong commitment to diversity programming is seemingly undermined by their continuing support for The O.C. and "The Loop." These two shows, targeted at young adults, do not have diverse casts for unknown purely creative reasons.

On the dramatic side the CW has the Tyra Banks’ hit reality series Americas Next Top Model. It must be noted that “Reality TV” seems to inherently better reflect the diversity of our culture. NAACP leadership has met with the CW executives and are encouraged that they are committed to diversity and will be launching new programs to reflect that commitment. They were also asked to take a close look at the casting on its shows One Tree Hill and Smallville. Again, two shows, targeted at young adults, that do not have diverse casts for creative reasons.

The network executives have come to recognize that minority viewers have a tremendous impact on a network’s overall rating. Nearly one third of the viewing audience is diverse. Removing minority numbers from the viewing audience overall would cause ratings to drop considerably. One could argue that one third of all those working in Hollywood should be minorities. It is important to continually remind the entertainment industry and network decision makers that diversity is not only good for our shared society it is good business.

NAACP urges the networks along with the WGA and all network show runners to look closely at those who are being hired on all scripted shows before the launch of the new fall season. The group asks them to pay close attention to those working on their writing staffs as well as, the actors, directors, craftspeople and technicians.


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