Minorities Missing from Fall Shows

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During its recent Television Critics Association Press Tour presentation, The Walt Disney Co.-owned ABC Family announced that it will return scripted police drama Lincoln Heights for a third season.

The announcement was noteworthy because the series, which features a predominately African-American cast, was the only series among the numerous new and returning scripted shows presented during the three-week TCA Tour in which minorities represent the majority of leading roles.

While numerous reality series highlighted during the tour — such as Bravo’s Housewives of Atlanta, TV Land’s Family Foreman and MTV’s The Cho Show — feature predominately minority casts, none of the scripted shows expected to debut during the 2008-09 television season feature such casts.

This year’s crop of shows featuring minorities in the majority of lead roles was made leaner with the cancellations earlier this year of UPN’s African-American led comedy series Girlfriends and CBS’s Hispanic actor-driven series Cane.

While other scripted shows, such as Starz’s upcoming drama Crash, feature diverse actors and actresses as part of ensemble casts, St. Petersburg Times TV media critic Eric Deggans said cable and broadcast-network competition for ratings has made programmers more reliant on a successful formula of shows with white lead actors and actresses — and less willing to take chances on producing minority-themed content.

“The ratings race is tighter and the competition for viewers is more intense, so they’re less willing to develop such shows,” said Deggans. “The networks still view predominantly minority shows as taking a chance, so they’re much less likely to take a chance on something that they’re not sure about in this competitive environment.”

Lincoln Heights executive producer Kathleen McGhee-Anderson said it will take younger, more visionary network executives with a more progressive view towards reaching the growing multicultural television audience to green-light shows like Heights, which follows the exploits of an African-American police officer who moves his family back into the rough Los Angeles neighborhood where he grew up.

“The decisions to put these shows on the air have to come from higher-ranking executives, and as more of them get to be younger and have a more forward-thinking vision about who represents our culture, then more of these shows will start to come on the air,” said McGhee-Anderson. “The [ABC Family] executives who green-lit [Lincoln Heights] were more in tune to the progressive, political and cultural environment that’s reflective of people’s attitudes today.”

And, Deggans pointed out, it will only take one hit show featuring a predominately minority cast to open the floodgates for other such shows.

“The thing about TV is that it only takes one show to be a success and there’ll be 50 copycats,” he said. “All it’ll take is one successful series with a predominately minority cast to do well, and someone will copy it. But it’ll be harder to get that show on the air.”

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