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CBS praised by national Latino groups despite criticism of network's poor diversity record

After coming under intense fire for its continued lack of progress in featuring minorities and women in leading and key roles, CBS was hailed Tuesday by two national Latino organizations as a “leader” in the inclusion of Latinos in prime- time television.

Heads of the National Hispanic Media Coalition and the National Latino Media Council said in a statement that CBS has made impressive strides in honoring a 1999 memorandum of understanding with a multi-ethnic coalition to increase Latino representation in front of and behind the camera.

“In a short amount of time, CBS made substantial changes that have catapulted the network to a leader in the field when it comes to the inclusion of Latinos,” Alex Nogales, president and CEO of the National Hispanic Media Coalition, said in the statement.

“This shows that great strides can be made when executives at the networks make hiring Latinos a priority, and we hope that every other network considers them an example to follow.”

The praise for CBS comes just a few weeks after network executives were blasted by several journalists during the summer portion of the Television Critics Assn. press tour for not following through on continued promises to increase diversity.

Of the network's six new shows, just one, “SWAT,” features a minority lead, and none feature a woman in a leading role. Most of the performers of color on CBS comedies and dramas are part of ensemble casts, such as Wilmer Valderrama of “NCIS.”

CBS has the lowest number of minority leads among broadcast networks and is the only one not to have a series built around a family of color.

At the TCA gathering, the network’s entertainment president, Kelly Kahl, and senior executive vice president of programming Thom Sherman, were grilled on the decision not to offer salary parity to two Asian cast members of "Hawaii Five-0," Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park, who subsequently left the show. Reporters also pointed out that the network has an all-white casting department on the East and West coasts.

In a phone interview Tuesday, Nogales said he and Thomas A. Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and chair of the National Latino Media Council, met last week with CBS Chief Executive Leslie Moonves and other network honchos to discuss their concerns. They noted that the network from 2006 to 2016 had made no significant sustained moves in hiring Latinos.

“We were prepared to be militant and were thinking about boycotts,” Nogales said. “They saw the handwriting on the wall. But when we came in, they disarmed us with new numbers and names.”

He said CBS showed that they had doubled the number of Latino regular actors from 2016, and doubled the number of Latino writers since that year. The network also agreed to order scripts from Latino writers and producers and look for stories relevant to that community. CBS also promised to hear “an additional 10 pitches from 10 Latino writers-producers.”

When asked about other minority groups who have been largely sidelined by CBS, Nogales said that he hoped they would make the same demands for inclusion as his organization.

greg.braxton@latimes.com

Twitter: @GeBraxton

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