Picture This

Little Diversity on New Shows: Industry Can Do Better

7/30/2007 9:15 AM

The 2007 Television Critics Tour is officially in the books. But after nearly three weeks of cable and broadcast network presentations showcasing more than 140 new and returning TV series, it was disappointing to see very few shows that feature predominately African-American, Asian or Hispanic casts, or shows that smartly and intelligently speak to stories and issues relating to people of color.

In fact when the 2007-08 television season launches in September only a handful of broadcast or cable network shows will feature a person of color as a lead character (adding Isaiah Washington and Stephen McPherson to the casts of The Bionic Woman and Lost respectively doesn’t count.) I give kudos to CBS for bucking the trend and greenlighting the upcoming drama Cane, starring Jimmy Smits and a strong Hispanic cast.

Unfortunately cable doesn’t grade much better. With general entertainment cable networks launching scripted series at record levels, few shows outside of ABC Family’s hit drama Lincoln Heights, TBS’ comedy series Tyler Perry’s House Of Payne and HBO’s excellent, gritty drama series The Wire feature more than one or two people of color in prominent roles.

Some will argue that there is an unprecedented amount of minority faces on the boob tube these days, with virtually every top-rated series featuring at least one person of color who has more than a passing cameo role. But while such roles may be integral to the series’ storyline, it would be nice to see more actors of color shed the Robin sidekick role and wear Batman’s lead cape more often in a series.

And, as an excellent report recently released by the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau on the African-American marketplace illustrates, advertisers can’t rely on TV’s top-rated shows to reach minority viewers.  

Since 1986 no more than 13 out of hundreds of shows measured each year by Nielsen Media Research have ranked among the top 20-rated programs for both black and white audiences, according to CAB’s Race, Relevance & Revenue: Insights On The African-American Marketplace.

With African-American households consuming three hours more a week of television viewing time than all other households — and with African-American buying power at $799 billion in 2006 according to the report — it’s amazing advertisers and networks aren’t aggressively pushing for more targeted programming that appeals to a very financially powerful segment of America.

Instead we get ABC’s Caveman as an example of television diversity. The industry can do better.