Balancing Ethnicity and the TV Lineup

Howard Rosenberg’s column “ ‘M.A.N.T.I.S.’ Racial Flap Sign of a Double Standard?” (Aug. 26) distorts the situation of African Americans on television. Although several of the new series this fall have African Americans in lead and co-starring roles, African Americans are not over-represented, as Rosenberg implies. Television is more than just prime time. There are cable networks, syndicated shows and movies of the week. And African Americans are certainly not 24% of all the roles on television, as Rosenberg cites for the Fox schedule.

The casting off of two African assistants of “M.A.N.T.I.S.’ "--Dr. Hawkins and the black female coroner--was part of a larger shift away from the African American-centered context of the pilot. What the Rainbow Commission on Fairness finds unacceptable is the assumption that a nearly all-black action fantasy couldn’t attract a crossover audience. Certainly the success of “The Cosby Show” revealed that audiences weren’t intimidated by the all-black cast.

Who holds the decision-making power? Fox is a contender among the networks because it won a younger, racially diverse audience coveted by advertisers through hip, urban, African American shows. How and why it decided to move in another direction deserves more analysis than dismissing Jesse Jackson and the Congressional Black Caucus as ethnic police. We need more diversity in front of the camera and in network and studio programming development departments and in the purchases of goods and services associated with the industry.


EDDIE WONG, Director

Commission on Fairness in Media

California Rainbow Coalition