Issuing its yearly report card on diversity, the NAACP said Tuesday that the broadcast entertainment nets made modest on-air gains during the 2002-03 primetime TV season, but not all did so well behind the camera.
Network news divisions took a hard rap on the knuckles in the NAACP study — “Out of Focus, Out of Sync” — for not doing more to increase diversity.
“Regulatory oversight, legal challenges, congressional legislation and consumer boycotts may be the only ways to bring about change in news operations that continue to only give lip service to the concept of opportunity,” said Kweisi Mfume, NAACP CEO-prexy.
The nets agreed to open up some of their records and work with the NAACP in 2000 after NBC chairman Bob Wright entered into a pact with the civil rights org to step up minority hiring and end what Mfume called a whitewash of the face of network TV. ABC, CBS and Fox soon did the same.
Progress for thesps
In the report released Tuesday, CBS and Fox topped the list in terms of continuing to step up the hiring of minority actors in the 2002-03 TV season. Fox employed 121 minority actors in regular or recurring roles last season. The Eye employed a record 99 minority thesps in a regular or recurring role.
“We are pleased that the NAACP has recognized CBS’ commitment to diversity,” CBS spokesman Dana McClintock said. “At the same time, we know there is still much to be done. And we look forward to continuing our work with the NAACP to achieve the goals we share.”
NBC and ABC also made noticeable gains last year, employing 81 and 74 minority actors, respectively, in regular or recurring roles in primetime.
“We at ABC feel a profound sense of responsibility as broadcasters to present a diversity of what president Mfume refers to as ideas and images to our viewing public, and we support the NAACP in their strong initiative for change,” ABC Television Network prexy Alex Wallau said Tuesday.
“That said, while we have made significant strides in certain areas, we fully recognize that we still have more work to do.”
As important as entertainment in the accurate depiction of minorities is TV news, according to the org. Of particular concern is the lack of diversity in guests and panelists appearing on network news programs.
ABC News prexy David Westin drew commendation for conceding the problem in 2000 and taking steps to have more minority guests. As for CBS News and NBC News — as well as cablers CNN, Fox News Channel and MSNBC — the “gaping variance” continues, Mfume said.
“Sadly, when it comes to news, news specials, television newsmagazines and the Sunday talking-head shows, none of the broadcast networks or cable news operations are doing exceedingly well with diversity or equal opportunity either in front of or behind the camera,” Mfume said. “In fact, this area has showed the least amount of progress or change. Show anchors, guests, reporters and so-called experts on the subject continue to be overwhelmingly white.”
Of the reality shows flooding the 2002-03 primetime sked, the NAACP had good things to say. Reality TV has consistently been more diverse than its episodic counterparts. (For instance, African-American performers Ruben Stoddard and Justin Guarini went on to become household names.)
“In this regard, unscripted programming has broadened the exposure of minorities from all walks of life to the millions of viewers of network television, while actors are forced to re-examine their stake in television’s future,” the report stated.
Behind the camera
NAACP report painted a discouraging picture when it came to the hiring of minority directors and writers. Org cautioned that not all the networks supplied comprehensive numbers in this arena, making it more difficult to judge how much progress was made.
During the 2002-03 season, ABC employed eight minority directors, while CBS 10. NBC did not provide numbers. Fox made the best showing, hiring 27 directors of color who directed 81 primetime episodes, according to the NAACP.
When it came to hiring minority scribes, CBS made no identifiable progress last season, according to the NAACP. At the same time, CBS was singled out for employing the only minority showrunner, Pam Veasey of “The District.”
ABC reported that it employed 19 minority writers and NBC had 14.
Fox, again providing the most comprehensive information, has shown the greatest progress in terms of stepping up its hiring of minority writers, reporting roughly 24% of its writers last season were minorities.
“Systematic change takes time. I’m pleased to see that this report reflects the changes we put into place three years ago,” Fox Entertainment senior veep for diversity Mitsy Wilson said. “We’ve begun to see some significant change.”