Minorities Seeing Little TV Diversity
Issuing its first report card on prime-time diversity on the four major networks, a minority coalition announced Tuesday that representation of African Americans in television has increased modestly as the networks continue to respond to an outcry last year over the near exclusion of minorities both in front of and behind the camera. However, those improvements may have come at a cost to other minorities such as Latinos, Asian Pacific Americans and Native Americans, according to the coalition report.
The grades ranged from Ds for ABC, NBC and Fox, to an F for CBS. In outlining the reason for the dismal marks, coalition leaders from the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People, the National Latino Media Council, the National Asian Pacific American Media Coalition and American Indians in Film, also charge that ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox continue to largely exclude those ethnic groups from appearing on shows, and from the directing and writing ranks of comedies and dramas. During a press conference, the groups further asserted that the four major networks by and large have not significantly followed through yet on agreements signed with the coalition last year to increase the number of minorities in both the business and creative divisions.
For the record:
12:00 AM, Nov. 16, 2000 For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday November 16, 2000 Home Edition Calendar Part F Page 55 Entertainment Desk 2 inches; 57 words Type of Material: Correction
Clarification--In a Calendar story on Wednesday about a media advocacy coalition’s report card on TV networks’ efforts to improve diversity, it was suggested that all members of the coalition had issued letter grades for each network. While all members of the coalition agreed on how the networks are performing, only the National Asian Pacific American Media Coalition issued specific letter grades.
“We are not happy,” said Esteban Torres of the National Latino Media Council, who is taking over the rotating chairmanship of the coalition from founding chairman Kweisi Mfume of the NAACP. “There has been some progress made, but not enough,” he continued. “The networks have to understand that.”
The coalition promised to continue monitoring and reporting on the networks, and was also preparing to target talent agencies, cable networks and the two smaller networks, UPN and the WB, in its diversity efforts.
Most network executives responded to the criticism by saying they were committed to diversity, and that their efforts were ongoing and a work in progress.
Josie Thomas, vice president of diversity for CBS, said, “We’ve made some improvements, and we are continuing to work on that. We think we’ve done a good job on nontraditional casting.”
John Rose, vice president of human resources at ABC, said, “Diversity remains an important initiative at ABC. We have made significant progress, but agree that more needs to be done, and is being done. We have instituted additional programs.”
NBC executives also repeated their commitment to diversity. Fox could not be reached for comment.
In the first report card released since last year’s memorandum of understanding that committed the four major networks to a number of initiatives designed to increase minority participation, ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox received poor to failing grades from Latino, Asian and Native American members of the coalition.
The coalition pointed out that there are noticeably more black performers, writers and directors on network shows this season. NAACP spokeswoman Debbie Liu added, however, that “the playing filed is far from level” and the NAACP was not totally satisfied with the progress made by the networks.
Other coalition leaders claimed that the representation of other minority groups is just as bad or worse than last year when the group criticized the lack of diversity on prime-time shows premiering on the 1999-2000 season.
National Council of La Raza President Raul Yzaguirre said that all the networks have shown improvement in terms of including Latinos in their shows. But despite “some rays of hope, this season has been an unqualified disappointment for the Latino community. . . . There’s been some kind of progress, but I would hope we’re past the days of black and white TV to the new days of Technicolor, multicultural TV. Otherwise, we’re wasting a lot of money on color television [sets].”
Karen R. Narasaki, acting chair of the Asian Pacific America Media Coalition, said that CBS received an F “despite [CBS President] Leslie Moonves’ promises” that diversity would improve. Narasaki said that CBS canceled “Martial Law,” its only series with an Asian American star, and that none of the network’s new shows have an Asian American in a lead, permanent or supporting role, despite the fact that “Bette” is set in Los Angeles and “Welcome to New York” is based in New York, large Asian American population centers.
Narasaki gave ABC and Fox a D-minus for their diversity efforts on behalf of Asians, while NBC received a D-plus.
Sonny Skyhawk, president of American Indians in Film, said in terms of Native Americans, “we’re just off the graph. The American Indian finds itself in the position of being nonexistent on television.”
Nevertheless, leaders of the groups said they remained optimistic that the networks would improve diversity, and that they were sincere in their efforts. They added that they would announce another report card in the next six months.