Fall TV lacks diversity


When it comes to new comedies on the four major broadcast networks, diversity does not seem to be a laughing matter.

Although new and veteran dramas have casts heavily populated with minorities, none of the 11 new comedies premiering this fall on ABC, CBS, Fox or NBC features a starring minority.

And though several new comedies feature minorities in supporting roles, other sitcoms such as CBS' The Class, NBC's Twenty Good Years, Fox's Happy Hour and The Winner have all-white casts.

NAACP President Bruce Gordon said he was particularly concerned. With the cancellation of Fox's The Bernie Mac Show, he said the fall season marks the first time in "recent memory" there is not a comedy on ABC, NBC, CBS or Fox with an African-American lead, and asserted that the major networks have failed to honor their commitment to diversity.

"I feel that we are losing important ground," Gordon said. "The lack of African-American leads in sitcoms is unconscionable. This is historically where many African actors, directors, writers and show runners have honed their artistic skills and found meaningful employment."

George Lopez, star of ABC's George Lopez and the one remaining minority lead of a major network comedy, called the TV studios "modern-day plantation owners. They are only concerned with the problems white people have, and they cast all these cute white people. ... There used to be these comedies with Bernie and Cedric The Entertainer but it seems like they got afraid and reverted back to what's safe for them."

The criticism of the networks revives a charge made by former NAACP President Kweisi Mfume in 1999 when he said the four major networks were perpetuating a "virtual whitewash in programming."

None of the 26 new comedies and dramas premiering in that fall TV season featured a minority in a leading role, and Mfume said the networks' actions represented a violation of the 1934 Federal Communications Act, which provides the airwaves belong to the public and as such, should strive to reflect the public's makeup.

The networks denied Mfume's accusations, but a continued campaign by him and several other ethnic advocacy groups led to an agreement to boost minority representation in front of and behind the camera.

Mitsy Wilson, senior vice president of diversity development for Fox, blamed turnover caused by new shows, but added, "We remain more committed than ever to diversity in our casting process. In the comedy arena, Fox has had very solid representation in recent years. But given the influx of new series each season, there will be fluctuations. However, we believe the casting in our drama and unscripted series accurately represents our commitment to diverse representation."

Greg Braxton writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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