Editorial: Networks Have Yet to Embrace Diversity

Nov 3, 2003  •  Post A Comment

New studies on diversity in television, covered in a special section in this issue, show signs of hope. But a careful read shows that the networks are not yet fully grasping the concept.
The studies seem to support the idea that ethnic minorities are gradually gaining access to jobs in network television, both in front of and behind the camera. It is apparent that the networks are interested in finding the secret to successfully using minority talent to help program for the most diverse audience possible, and in general they have made progress. Hit series “George Lopez,” “Bernie Mac,” “My Wife and Kids” and others prove a general audience exists for shows featuring African Americans, Hispanics and other minorities.
But progress has been incremental at best. Even though the numbers have improved slightly, the basic problem has remained the same: Minorities have yet to be fully integrated into mainstream television. Much of the programming in which minorities are central characters is still clustered in “sitcom ghettos.” What progress has been made has simply moved the process up and down the same track again and again.
The time has come for television executives to show the courage to lead by example and to break their addiction to lowest-common-denominator programming. Until they cast minorities in lead roles on a regular basis, until they depict minorities as something other than buffoons or criminals and place them in roles that reflect the breadth of their roles in society, until they start buying scripts for minority-based dramas and putting minorities in charge of those projects, television will remain a part of the problem of racism in America, not a part of the solution.
Network programs aimed at helping minorities make headway in the TV business are a step in the right direction. Such programs are still relatively new and are a long way from boosting minorities to showrunner positions. But they are getting the ball rolling and have dramatically improved minority access to entry-level positions. These types of programs should be encouraged and expanded.
How the networks approach diversity is important because television is both a reflection of society and a force that helps shape the society it reflects. It must be successful as a business, but it also has a responsibility to provide leadership and address the problems that plague American culture. One of the biggest and most persistent of those problems has long been racism. It’s safe to say that, so far, television isn’t helping matters nearly enough.