Election Section

TV diversity makes progress, but not for all minorities

The Associated Press
Wednesday November 15, 2000

LOS ANGELES — More than a year after civil rights groups demanded more ethnically diverse programming from major broadcast networks, blacks alone have been the beneficiary, the groups said Tuesday. 

The picture at ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox remains largely black and white to the detriment of Asian-Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans, a coalition of the NAACP and others contend. 

“There is no progress in terms of Latino representation in the media,” Raul Yzaguirre, representing the National Latino Media Council, told a news conference. 

The NAACP, while lauding the increased hiring of blacks in acting and other behind-the-scenes jobs this season, said the coalition remains united in its effort to make TV truly inclusive. 

“We don’t want them (the networks) to think hiring African-Americans will appease the entire minority community,” said NAACP spokeswoman Debbie Liu, adding that there is still room for improvement for black representation. 

The absence of Kweisi Mfume, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, was noted by reporters. Liu, explaining he was in Florida because of the contested presidential election, said he remained committed to the diversity cause. 

Karen Narasaki of the National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium offered a dismal “report card” grading networks on their inclusion of Asian-American. 

The highest grade was a D-plus for NBC, which features a handful of actors such as Ming-Na in “ER,” to an F for CBS. ABC and Fox both received D-minuses. 

CBS, with the cancellation of “Martial Law” starring Sammo Hung, is in worse shape than last year when it comes to including Asian-Americans on screen, Narasaki said. 

She blasted the networks for missing opportunities to make the casts of shows such “Welcome to N.Y.,” which is set in a conspicuously multicultural city, more diverse. 

The lack of significant growth in the number of Asian-American writers and directors at most of the networks also was criticized. 

The coalition said it intends to keep the pressure on networks and expand its attention to smaller networks, the cable industry, advertisers and talent agencies. 

Last winter, the coalition secured agreements from the four networks to increase both the number of minorities on-screen as well as development deals with writers and producers. 

The agreements were reached in January and February through separate discussions between the coalition groups and the networks. The agreements generally were devoid of specific numbers that could provide a benchmark for progress. 

The networks opened negotiations with civil rights groups after the NAACP floated the threat of a TV boycott or legal action because of the lack of minority actors on the fall 1999 schedule of new shows. 

The networks say they are trying to change. 

“Diversity remains an important initiative for us here at ABC,” said John Rose, who is directing the network’s diversity effort. “We’ve done a lot and made significant progress, but we realize more has to be done.” 

He said the network has, among other programs, started a talent development initiative that has enlisted educators and nonprofit groups to “nurture and support writers and directors” of color. 

“CBS appreciates the ongoing concerns of the coalition and applauds its role as an agent for change in our industry,” said Josie Thomas, senior vice president of diversity for CBS Television. 

She noted there had been a 20 percent increase in the number of minorities cast in CBS’ primetime shows and a threefold increase in minority producers.