Diversity group looks to the law

Jul 9, 2001  •  Post A Comment

About 20 members of the diversity coalition that wants the broadcast networks to increase their minority count met on June 29 in Washington and formed a committee to explore legal actions to take against the networks.
In addition to celebrity attorney Johnnie Cochran, the committee includes lawyers from the NAACP, the National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium, the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
Diversity coalition members told the press in May that ABC is the worst offender when it comes to diversity and that the coalition planned to determine what action to take against the network at the Washington meeting.
On June 27 in a 21/2-hour meeting with Alex Wallau, president of ABC Television Network; current diversity coalition chairman and former congressman Esteban Torres; and Alex Nogales, president of the National Hispanic Media Coalition, the decision was made not to take action against ABC for now, according to Mr. Nogales.
Mr. Nogales said he and Mr. Torres told Mr. Wallau that the coalition has met with top network brass at NBC and Fox and has yet to do so with ABC. Mr. Wallau agreed to set up a meeting with 20 of ABC’s top executives and the coalition before the fall season is launched, Mr. Nogales said, adding that Mr. Wallau told the two diversity coalition members that he would personally oversee the network’s diversity initiatives.
Mr. Nogales also said that at the June 29 meeting in Washington the diversity coalition agreed to give ABC only 21/2 months, or until the fall season, to increase its minority figures in front of and behind the camera, and that the newly created legal committee resolved to come up with a concrete plan of action to take against the networks this fall if diversity numbers fail to increase.
Sources say no date has been set for the next legal committee meeting. The agenda of that meeting is expected to explore a network boycott or talking to diversity members who are on the boards of major advertisers as ways to fight the networks. While ABC is a target, members agree CBS is a close second.
“The difference between ABC and CBS is very slight,”’ said Mr. Nogales, who was at the Washington meeting. “The mood of the group was `enough is enough.’ When you talk boycott, you have to define boycott and all those legal ramifications. The networks have all had a lot of time and they haven’t really moved.”
Another press conference will be held in October, and at that time the coalition will issue another report card, Mr. Nogales said. At that point the coalition may announce a plan of action if the diversity numbers have not increased for the fall lineup.
ABC, however, is quick to point out the steps it has taken to create a more diversified workplace.
Network officials say diversity is taken seriously at the network. Last month ABC held its second annual networking mixer for the Directors Guild of America. It was intended to provide minority directors access to producers of ABC shows. According to ABC spokeswoman Zenia Mucha, Mr. Wallau was present at the mixer, as was Carmen Smith, ABC Entertainment’s vice president of talent development programs.
“ABC’s commitment to diversity encompasses all areas of the network,” said Ms. Smith, who is African American and oversees some of the diversity efforts. “This year the number of minorities in recurring roles on all prime-time series will increase by approximately 40 percent from last fall. We know more needs to be done, and we have programs that range from increasing on-air diversity in programming in every daypart to others that discover and nurture new talent in writing, directing and filmmaking.”
One of the new programs Ms. Smith oversees is New Talent Development, which was created in August 2000 to discover new minority writers, directors and filmmakers.
According to documents ABC provided to the diversity coalition, which were obtained by Electronic Media, in the next few weeks, ABC will award 10 grants and scholarships between $5,000 and $20,000 each. Recipients will be paired with executive mentors at the network for one year.
The documents also said ABC has recently expanded its TV Writers Fellowship program, in which three out of the five participants are minorities. One of the three minority fellows has been placed as a staff writer on the one-hour drama “Thieves,” which will premiere in the fall. In another of the network’s diversity initiatives, Spike Lee has partnered with ABC for the second year to produce public service announcements for Black History Month.
During 2000, according to the documents, minorities made up 34 percent of new hires and 28 percent of promotions at ABC. Of the 18 prime-time entertainment series that premiered from the summer of 2000 through this fall, minorities made up 33 percent of the recurring roles.