Entertaining Ideas for Diversity in the Industry : Black TV Grows Bigger, Better

The Times recently questioned whether NBC has "given up" on African-American shows. There has always been speculation in the industry that the abundance of shows with African-American casts is an aberrant fad that will eventually fade. And for some, the dearth of those shows on NBC's fall schedule lends credence to this belief.

I'd like to break tradition with the customary finger-pointing and advance the radical idea that no one has given up on African-American shows and they are actually getting better.

There are more African-American shows than ever and the quality is rising. From the strong families on "Where I Live," "Roc," "Fresh Prince" and "Family Matters," to the career-minded professionals of "Martin," "Hangin' With Mr. Cooper" and this summer's "Sinbad," we are seeing many of the images that we have long demanded. And there's more to come:

"Tall Hopes," "704 Hauser Street" and "South Central," will present three different kinds of working-class families; "City High" and "George" will focus on successful black men giving back to their communities. And perhaps the most exciting new show of all, "My Girls" will finally showcase the importance, talent and beauty of African-American women.

NBC did cancel three African-American shows last season and I'd like to think they did so because they were not pulling the ratings. Networks are in the business of making money and if every African-American show got a 30 share, NBC would put on 50 of them and change its name to the Negro Broadcasting Co.

NBC's commitment is questioned because it didn't have three new shows ready to replace the ones it canceled. I should hope NBC's duty is quality first and volume second. I'd rather see one good minority show on the schedule than 10 poorly conceived ones. While it's great to see more shows with African-American casts, it is unwise to expect all, or even most of them, to succeed. Television is a tough business and it doesn't normally play favorites where money is concerned.

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However, there are some ways to assist in the maintenance of quality minority shows. We must continue to open the door to more minority writers, allow minority writers to compete in all areas of the business. More effort must be given to bringing dramas about minorities to the public. Comedies are fine, but we can be exciting and provocative too.

If we put quality and success first, then it will be unnecessary to question a network's commitment to minority shows because that obligation will be encompassed in its general commitment to excellence.

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