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Diversity still eludes network TV, third annual study finds

By Lynn Elber, The Associated Press
Wednesday May 15, 2002

Sitcoms even less diverse than last year; children’s hour has fewest minorities 


LOS ANGELES — Network television has made scant progress toward ethnic diversity in programming and even lost ground when it comes to the shows favored by young viewers, a new study says. 

A 1999 vow by the major networks to include more minorities in prime-time series has largely gone unfulfilled, according to an analysis of the current season by Children Now, a research and advocacy group. 

The networks are telling “essentially the same old tale,” the report said, in which younger white males predominate, ethnic actors are relegated to supporting roles and female characters are often stereotypes. 

Reality, variety and wrestling programs had “a fair amount” of diversity, said Children Now researchers, who looked at those genres for the first time. 

“Fall Colors 2001-02,” the group’s third annual study of prime-time programming, examined the first two episodes of each evening series airing last fall on ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, UPN and WB. 

Children Now began the studies after broadcasters, under pressure from the NAACP and other civil rights groups, agreed to work toward more inclusive programming. 

Calls seeking network comment were not immediately returned Tuesday. 

The latest report found shows in the 8 p.m. hour to be the most segregated on prime-time TV. Young viewers do most of their prime-time viewing during that sitcom-dominated hour, according to Nielsen Media Research data cited by the report. 

Ethnically mixed casts tend to be concentrated in later-evening dramas such as “ER” and “The Practice,” with the 10 p.m. series offering nearly four times the diversity of 8 p.m. programs. 

There was a substantial drop insitcom diversity. Only 7 percent of comedies had ethnically diverse starring casts, compared to 14 percent last season. 

The study found subtle differences in how whites and minorities are portrayed. A majority of young white characters are shown interacting with their parents, compared with a fourth of Hispanic youths. 

Black families are almost exclusively shown as the focus of comedies, and black households headed by professionals are portrayed as more affluent than white ones, the study found. 

Minorities are much more likely than whites to be portrayed as service workers, unskilled laborers and criminals. 

The picture is somewhat different for gay and lesbian characters, who have gained increased visibility on network TV. So did characters with disabilities, the study found. In both instances, however, most such roles go to whites. 

Native Americans are largely ignored and Native American women are nonexistent on network TV, the study found. 

The Children Now report is another in a long line citing the same problems, said Alex Nogales, president of the National Hispanic Media Coalition. 

“We need to make these reports part of a bigger puzzle,” he said. “We need to find the underlying reasons this is going on and that no one is addressing. Is it racism, is it economics and what specifics can be done to remedy the situation quickly?” 

California legislators are considering a bill that would go “right to the root” of the problem by authorizing a study of hiring practices and patterns in the entertainment industry, Nogales said. 

The bill, AB 1904, would ask the University of California to study the topic and report to the Legislature and Gov. Gray Davis by January 2004.