August 25, 2011

TV grows whiter in 2011-2012

Concerns about lack of minorities in NBC's family

Latino groups raise an issue with KNBC, and NBC's fall schedule shows a reversal from characters' ethnic diversity last season.

By Greg Braxton
Then-diversity chief Paula Madison maintained in a February radio interview with noted sociologist Michael Eric Dyson that Comcast's NBCUniversal was committed to increasing diversity "in all facets of our business.…Those commitments are in writing, and they are on file with the FCC. There is no likelihood that we would revert. We're not going to put shows on the air that are devoid of diversity."

But little more than six months after the approval of the merger by the Federal Communications Commission, and three months after Madison retired, some of NBCUniversal's units have come under fire as advocates claim that the company is not honoring promises that helped pave the way for the merger's approval.

KNBC Channel 4, NBCUniversal's Los Angeles station, has been targeted by two Latino journalist groups who say the newsroom is discriminating against Latino anchors. And NBC's upcoming fall schedule shows a marked reversal from last season, when the merger was still pending and the network developed "Undercovers" as well as other shows with minorities in major roles, such as "Outlaw," "The Event" and "Outsourced." Those series were all casualties of low ratings, and the new pilots show few people of color in leading roles.
And:Among the six new series in the fall, only one—"The Playboy Club"—has a minority in a leading role (Cuban-American actor Eddie Cibrian). The cast of the romantic workplace comedy "Free Agents" is predominantly white. In "Prime Suspect," a New York-based police drama starring Maria Bello, the detective squad has only one person of color while the criminals are black and Latino. (The same scenario parallels NBC's 2009 pilot of "Southland," an LAPD drama that was yanked after one season on NBC but found a new home—and more ethnic cast members—on TNT.) The new comedies don't reflect the multicultural flavor of veteran NBC comedies "Community," "30 Rock," "The Office" and "Parks and Recreation."

NBC is not the only network struggling with the issue this season; new shows on rival networks feature few people of color in prominent roles. CBS has only one person of color in its new fall lineup, Oscar nominee Taraji P. Henson ("The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"), playing a supporting role on "Person of Interest." Fox and ABC fare slightly better: Shelley Conn stars in Fox's "Terra Nova" while ABC's revamp of "Charlie's Angels" stars Annie Ilonzeh, an African American actress, as one of the Angels, while their protector Bosley is played by Ramon Rodriguez.
Less Color in Your TV:  Onscreen Diversity in DeclineBack in the spring, before the fall lineups were set, representatives of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists’ Equal Employment Opportunities Department and the National Association of Latino Independent Producers spoke hopefully of the pilots being developed. But a promising pilot season has led to an unpromising fall. That’s not just unfortunate for actors of color. It’s also poor representation of an American population that is growing less white. In the 2000 U.S. census, 77.1 percent of Americans listed their race as “white.” In 2010, that number fell to 72.4 percent. Meanwhile, the percentages of Hispanics, African Americans, and Asian Americans all grew.

For working actors of color, more diversity on network television means more jobs. More diversity in lead roles means more awesome jobs. But to convince the network executives who make programming decisions that diversity is a more worthwhile goal than they apparently think it is, advocates must hammer away at the notion that in order to reach a more diverse America, the networks must present a more diverse face. AFTRA, the Screen Actors Guild, and others have already been making that argument for some time now. Sadly, it looks like they’ll need to make it again come pilot season 2012.
Comment:  Actor Zahn McClarnon is in the pilot of the new CW series Ringer, but that's the only TV casting news I've heard about Natives. Even at 1-2% of the population, they're underrepresented again. As usual.

For more on the subject, see Tyler Blackburn in The New World and Asian Indian Cast as Navajo.

Below:  Boris Kodjoe as Steven Bloom and Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Samantha Bloom in the short-lived show "Undercovers." (Frank Ockenfels/NBC)


The Dehyphenator said...

Nothing's more conducive to ending racism in America than keeping tabs on the racial composition of just about everything. Yeah, right.

"TV grows whiter in 2011-2012" My God, just what do you sound like? Ever give a thought to that question? Lessee: "TV grows blacker in 2011-2012" Racist or not racist? Fitting or not fitting for a site like Stormfront? But change "blacker" to "whiter" and it's all OK?! How do you guys manage to lead a functional life when you lack even the most basic sense for irony, hypocrisy and logical contradiction?

dmarks said...

I agree that some attention is needed to this. After all, you can't ignore it if year after year, Native Americans are under-represented.

But we sure don't need racist solutions (such as forms of affirmative action, which is blatantly racist) or mere tokenism.

Good solutions including getting more Natives/etc into filmmaking and other aspects of the creative process.

Anonymous said...

Well, dmarks, the big problem with tokenism is that it's stupid. When I was a kid, five-token bands were the norm. The first five-token band (outside of PBS) has to be the "new" X-Men from the 70s. Yeah, they were all national stereotypes, except for Storm, who had absolutely nothing Egyptian about her, but she instead has closer to Earth tendencies. Subsequent ones were hardly any better.

Anonymous said...

Also, see, dmarks, if you acknowledge that racism exists, you're a racist.

Anonymous said...

Networks and the media execs are not ran by minorities, they are all ran and owned by Anglos and these people only reflect an America of past generations, not the future America where diversity and mixed races are inevitable.

Television programming is geared to the needs of the largest voting pool, which are white, elderly Americans born between the 1930s to 1950s.

Rob said...

"TV grows blacker in 2011-2012" Racist or not racist? Answer: It's not racist to observe either trend if it's factually accurate. As the observations in my posting were.

It would be racist only if someone said, "TV is growing whiter and that's good [moral judgment], even though the US population is growing browner." That's essentially what TV executives are saying, or at least implying. And that's racist.

Anything else you need me to explain for you, Dehyphenator? I'm here to help people who are ignorant about the documented racism in America.