NBC announced Wednesday that it has signed a far-reaching agreement with the NAACP that establishes goals and timetables to increase opportunities for people of color at the net through various “diversity initiatives.”
The agreement — which calls for more deals with minority-owned production companies, funding a writer on the staff of every second-year show, and making writing and directing staffs more diverse — has effectively called off any threat of protest against the Peacock network by the NAACP.
Separately, ABC is also expected to seal an agreement by the end of the week with the NAACP that is similar in form to the NBC deal.
And NAACP president and CEO Kweisi Mfume said the organization is still in negotiations with CBS and Fox about signing similar pacts within the next 10 days.
“We are continuing our work with the other networks,” Mfume said. “The NBC model will become the model for emulation.”
If the network negotiations are not consummated during the established time period, Mfume said “the NAACP reserves the right to boycott. But, we don’t necessarily want to go down that street if we don’t have to.”
The NAACP has been in simultaneous negotiations with the four networks since August, when the organization first publicly criticized the broadcast nets for lack of diversity in their fall lineups.
Until recently, the NAACP and Mfume had threatened a network boycott — first during November sweeps and, when that deadline passed, during February.
Media observers had continually pegged NBC as the most likely recipient of any NAACP action. But Wednesday’s agreement obviously preempts any boycott against the Peacock network.
ABC apparently will also be in the clear soon. Unlike the NBC plan, ABC’s diversity agreement does not include hiring quotas for series writing-staff positions. But it does outline a number of new and ongoing executive/outreach, production, programming and advertising initiatives at the Alphabet network.
ABC, CBS and Fox execs declined comment on any specific negotiations with the NAACP.
“CBS has worked closely with the NAACP to address these very important issues, and that work continues as planned,” a CBS spokesman said. “We’re proud of our leadership role in this area and we look forward to working further with Mr. Mfume and the NAACP to make the commitments and initiatives we announced last November a reality.”
“Fox remains in very positive discussions with the NAACP,” a Fox spokesman said, “and expects a mutually beneficial relationship going forward.”
The “memorandum of understanding” between the NAACP and NBC calls for the full inclusion of people of color in employment, casting and image portrayal, content creation and development, program production, distribution, promotion, financing and professional services.
“NBC is committed to making sure that equal opportunities exist for everyone including African Americans, Latino Americans, Asian Americans and Native Americans — both in front of and behind the camera,” NBC president Bob Wright said.
NBC declined to comment on how much money the new initiatives would cost the net.
“It’s obviously a quite significant amount,” Wright said.
As part of the agreement, NBC will establish a minority recruitment and training program by March 1, designed to increase minority hiring, promotion and representation at the net. Specifically, NBC promises to:
- Create an associate program that will establish 25 yearlong training assignments within the news, entertainment, sports and stations divisions targeted at minority professionals;
- Provide six NBC minority fellowship scholarships for graduate studies in broadcast, communications and business;
- Ensure that a substantial number of the 90-plus individuals who serve as NBC pages each year will be minorities;
- Distribute a letter to all NBC managers that affirms the importance of evaluating the achievement of diversity-related goals in making compensation decisions.
In February, NBC will conduct an all-day seminar for current and prospective producers that will emphasize the net’s desire to achieve diversity in all areas of writing, directing, casting and all levels of production on network series. Wright, Mfume and Scott Sassa, president of NBC West Coast, will keynote.
On the program production side, NBC will:
- Fund an additional writing position on the staff of every second-year show, beginning in the 2000-01 season;
- Encourage program suppliers to increase the number of shows per season with African-American and other minority directors;
- Encourage producers to recruit minority writers to fill WGA-legislated freelance writing assignments;
- Attempt to increase NBC’s deals with minority-owned production companies.
NBC Studios will establish a network initiative to seek out and hire qualified people of color as directors for the 2000-01 season. “Having diverse people in front of and behind the camera makes good business sense,” Sassa said.
NBC will also set a goal of buying $10 million of products and/or services from minority-owned businesses within the next 18 months, an increase of approximately 100%.
ABC’s plan, meanwhile, includes:
- initiating an associates program for ABC Entertainment Group;
- developing a formal mentoring program for minorities;
- devising for each division an outreach plan and establishing a working relationship with at least one professional organization;
- having each division’s employees undergo mandatory diversity training;
- making grants to selected minority individuals to support new writing and directing talent; and
- devising new strategies to expand the net in casting and talent development.
With the Big 4 networks more or less settled, the NAACP will next turn its attention to other program outlets.
“At both the WB and UPN as well as the cable networks, there are still very serious problems with regards to diversity,” Mfume said.
Wright also sees a long road ahead. “There is a great deal of work to be done,” he said.