Fewer series feature black-dominant casts

Apr 15, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Multiethnic TV series on the six broadcast networks have increased substantially, but there are fewer shows with predominantly black casts, according to a new study on African American viewing assembled by media-buying giant Initiative Media-North America.
Initiative Media’s research paper, obtained by Electronic Media, found that while the number of multiethnic series increased by 59 percent this season over two years ago, the number of black-character-dominant series has declined by 35 percent over the same span. Stacey Lynn Koerner, senior VP of broadcast research for Initiative Media, said the growth of multiethnic casting in prime-time TV series “is encouraging”-particularly with ethnic and racial diversity remaining a hot-button issue for the networks and the NAACP.
“When it comes to the multiethnic shows, there seems to be more of a balance among each of the six broadcast networks, which is a very important step forward for African Americans and other minorities,” Ms. Koerner said. “Pressure from the NAACP [over the past few years] has helped prod the networks into making greater strides in being inclusive and more reflective of our society in general.”
For the current season, Initiative’s study found that there are 43 multiethnic series airing on the six broadcast networks. It marked the largest count ever for multiethnic shows in a season and a 230 percent increase since 1995, when there were only 13 such shows on the air.
The push to cast more African American actors in lead or supporting roles in scripted TV series has translated to eight multiethnic dramas such as “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” “Law & Order,” “ER,” “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” and “The Practice” achieving strong crossover appeal among blacks and whites (see chart with jump). In fact, among the eight crossover shows, there was only a 4 percent differential in the ratings between the two races during the fourth quarter of 2001.
Still, the broadcast networks have regressed in another way, with only nine shows featuring African American-dominant casts on the broadcast networks’ schedules-down 35 percent from 14 such shows in each of the last two seasons. While expressing concern about the decline, Ms. Koerner was nonetheless optimistic about Fox adding “Bernie Mac,” in addition to ABC’s scheduling the Hispanic American-led “George Lopez” comedy as a lead-out of African American star Damon Wayans’ “My Wife & Kids.”
“What this may suggest is that it is easier to integrate minority actors into established series, but the lack of minority-dominant shows may just mirror how difficult it is to launch or maintain any new series on the networks these days,” Ms. Koerner said. “The failure rate for shows seems to know no racial boundaries.”
As Initiative’s study bore out, Fox’s “Bernie Mac” (at a 22.2 rating among black households this season) ranked atop the African American viewing universe but scored 83 percent lower in white households (3.8 rating). ABC’s “My Wife & Kids” appeared to have the best crossover appeal, with its 6.4 rating in white households, holding a 59 percent differential from the sitcom’s 15.8 rating in black homes.
With its Monday night devoted to four African American-dominant sitcoms (“The Parkers,” “One on One,” “Girlfriends” and “The Hughleys”), UPN dominates in black homes on Monday evenings (17.2 rating), but the quartet ranks 131st to 134th in Nielsen Media Research’s measure of white homes (0.7 rating). UPN remained the top draw during the fourth quarter of 2001 in black households in prime time (8.7 rating), followed by ABC (8.0), CBS (7.5), NBC (7.1), Fox (6.6) and The WB (4.6).
Ms. Koerner’s study shows that African Americans, who account for 11.8 percent of the total U.S. television homes, watch 74.4 hours per week in all dayparts. That dwarfs viewing in nonblack households (52.9 hours) by a 29 percent margin.
Among the dayparts, African American viewing is most dominant in overnight time periods (1 a.m. to 6 a.m.), averaging 10.7 hours per week and holding a 154 percent margin over nonblack homes (4.2 hours) during the November 2001 sweeps. In daytime, the differential is also 46 percent higher in African American vs. nonblack homes (11.3 hours vs. 7.7 hours). As for prime time, African Americans watch 10 percent more TV (15.0 hours vs. 13.5 hours).
When it comes to viewing by gender, African American women-like their white female counterparts-watch about one-third more TV than male viewers in many dayparts. In two of the key adults 18 to 49 demographic categories, African American females averaged a 4.4 rating in prime time, holding a 46 percent viewing cushion over black males (3.0 rating) among the six major broadcast networks during the fourth quarter of 2001. Black women also held a 4 percent viewing edge over white females 18 to 49 (4.2 rating).
“There are some universals in audience research, but additional viewing in some key black demographics make African Americans a very important and highly valued target for the networks and marketers to reach,” said Ms. Koerner, who noted that the Initiative study is being distributed internally and to its advertising clients.
Other notable findings in Initiative’s report:
* Fifty-six percent of all black viewers in 2002 are under 35 and have a median age of 31.7 years, while the general U.S. population has a median age of 37.0 years.
* Basic cable network ratings are about 43 percent higher in African American households compared with white households during the fourth quarter of 2001.
* The top-five ranked cable networks in black households are Lifetime (1.72 rating), BET (1.70), Nickelodeon (1.70), Cartoon Network (1.67) and Superstation TBS (1.40).
* Ratings in African American households for syndicated series index significantly higher than in white homes: World Wrestling Federation is 98 percent higher in black homes (18.1 rating vs. 9.1 rating); “Judge Judy” 113 percent higher (15.8 rating vs. 7.4 rating); “Jerry Springer” 242 percent higher (8.2 rating vs. 2.4 rating); and “The Oprah Winfrey Show” 42 percent higher (8.1 rating vs. 5.7 rating).