On Diversity, Cable's Not There Yet


Cable celebrated its diversity efforts in New York last week, but surveys reflecting the amount of diversity on-screen and in the employment ranks show there’s still work to do.

A study of median household ratings during the 2011-12 television season revealed what seems like a no-brainer, given the diverse makeup of the country: Cable shows in which 31% to 40% of the cast represented people of color on average generated higher household ratings than shows in which minorities represented 10% or less of the cast.

But the Hollywood Diversity Brief: Spotlight on Cable Television report, conducted by the Ralph Bunche Center for African-American Studies at UCLA, also showed a majority of the casts of more than 844 shows across 61 cable networks examined had fewer than 10% minority actors and actresses.

Diversity behind the camera was just as disconcerting, per the survey, presented at last week’s NAMIC Conference.

More than two-thirds of the shows included in the study had writing staffs that were more than 90% white. Those shows ranked at the bottom of the study’s average household ratings charts, while shows like USA’s In Plain Sight and TNT’s Southland (ironically both now cancelled), in which minorities made up 10% to 20% of their writing staffs, drew on average the highest household ratings, according to the survey.

The study came on the heels of a joint National Association for Multi- Ethnicity in Communications and Women in Cable Telecommunications diversity employment survey, which showed the industry needs to remain committed to hiring and promoting people of color and women at all levels.

The industry last week committed $1.75 million to help advance the diversity cause at the annual Walter Kaitz Foundation dinner. But as National Cable & Telecommunications Association CEO Michael Powell said during the NAMIC and WICT Town Hall diversity meeting, cable needs to further “engage the topic with the sense of dissatisfaction, because we’re not there yet.”