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Less Color in Your TV: Onscreen Diversity in Decline

0824 undercovers
“Undercovers” was not very good. Neither were “Outsourced,” “Outlaw,” and “The Event.” Hell, neither were most of the new shows on NBC’s schedule last fall, which is a big reason why many of them are not on NBC’s schedule this fall. Sometimes bad TV shows rake in huge ratings (see Sheen, Charlie), and sometimes they get canceled. Them’s the breaks.

But as the Los Angeles Times pointed out this week, while several of NBC’s failed 2010 efforts featured minority actors in key roles, not many of the network’s new 2011 offerings do so. Last year, NBC’s lineup became a political football in the fight over Comcast’s proposal to purchase NBCUniversal from General Electric (prompting U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., to memorably declare, “I really liked ‘Girlfriends,’ ” the long-since-canceled CW sitcom about four African-American ladypals, as she argued for more diversity on network television). But with the Comcast deal finalized and the heat turned down, NBC’s new fall lineup includes only two minority leads: Eddie Cibrian of “The Playboy Club” and Maya Rudolph of “Up All Night,” the latter of whom had her role beefed up from supporting status following the success of her movie “Bridesmaids.”
As the Los Angeles Times points out, “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.” The paper (they still print it on dead trees for nostalgia’s sake) also gives low marks to CBS’s new fall offerings but grants a bit more credit to ABC and Fox.

Back 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.

Pictured: Boris Kodjoe and Gugu Mbatha-Raw in "Undercovers"

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Comments

The L.A. Times in it's desperate search for relevancy is once again demonstrating why it's become so irrelevant, political correctness is not what drives any market, it is profitability that drives any market, of course those socialists at the Times haven't a clue when it comes to capitalism so we get to watch a self righteous hypocritical bigoted modern day dinosaur die.

representation of all on the screen is very important, especially for youth, they need to see people like them. We need to teach, be an example that minorities are part of this society we are Latinos, Blacks, Asians, Native Americans but television programs every day have fewer minorities in the screens.

The unfortunate trend in scripted television is mirrored by what's going in film now. Doing what has produced profits in the past; recycled stories and the advent of comic book characters flood the screen basically colorless. With the exception of THE HELP and COLOMBIANA. Unlike in the 90's when the NAACP chastized the major networks for not having more diversity in television; it's going to take more than that now to move this "mountain". Viewers are going to have be vocal on what's missing on their t.v. screens; along with the unions and organizations. As a black actress and writer; it's my goal to produce scripts that reflect the world we live in today. A world of hues and shades.

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