African-American characters repped in 16% of shows, but spread unevenly
African-American characters on primetime television have become “ghettoized” — concentrated on sitcoms Monday and Friday nights, and on the UPN and the WB networks, a Screen Actors Guild study released Thursday showed.“These findings are important because the ways in which groups are included on or excluded from America’s dominant medium reflect, in strikingly visual terms, unresolved questions about power imbalances in our society,” said study author Dr. Darnell M. Hunt, director of African-American Studies at USC. The study examined 384 episodes of 87 primetime series during five weeks last fall to include pre-sweeps (Oct. 17-30), sweeps (Oct. 31-Nov. 13) and post-sweeps (Nov. 28-Dec. 4) on ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, UPN and the WB. It showed blacks were slightly over-represented in primetime with nearly 16% of all characters (988 out of 6,199), compared to representing 12.2% of the U.S. population, but Hunt cited several examples showing that black TV characters were not evenly distributed:
- 50.5% of all blacks were in sitcoms, compared to 30% of white characters, 21.1% of Latino characters and 17% of Asian characters.
- Blacks were under-represented at Fox with less 10% of all characters and at NBC with 11%. “Moreover, most of these characters are not central of their respective program’s storyline,” Hunt said.
- Blacks are regulars in only 27.3% of Fox’s primetime shows compared to 66.7% for CBS and all eight UPN shows.
- Monday and Friday are “black” nights in primetime with seven predominately African-American sitcoms. The two nights accounted for more than half of all black characters appearing in primetime.
- Ten of the 17 fictional programs in the top 20 have African American series regulars.