ABC spells hope for diverse America

Bold scheduling earns Alphabet honors

Latinos are a burgeoning part of the U.S. population and a growing influence on American culture, but they’re stastically underrepresented both on TV and in TV.

On TV, that is, in front of the camera, there just aren’t very many Latino characters. In TV, behind the camera, Latinos are also scarce. The 2007 Hollywood Writers Report stated that in television, “Latinos were the most underrepresented (minority) in 2005 at the rate of 6 to 1.”

Among the major nets, Disney-ABC is doing the most to buck the trend, so it’s no accident that two of this year’s Imagen honorees are women with a Disney-ABC connection.

America Ferrera, star of ABC’s “Ugly Betty,” receives the Creative Achievement Award and Disney-ABC Television Group president Anne Sweeney will accept the President’s Award on behalf of her company in recognition of its support for Imagen’s mission to give access, education and opportunity to Latinos in the entertainment industry.

Sweeney says ABC is succeeding by reflecting the diversity of the audience. “The more textured, the more real, the more authentic our writing and directing staffs are and our on-air talent, the more successful we’ll be, because we are reflecting the real world around us, not just the bubble world.”

Sweeney is proud to say that ABC’s schedule houses “the most diverse shows in television.” With such skeins as “Ugly Betty,” “Lost,” “Desperate Housewives” and “Grey’s Anatomy,” ABC boasts six of the 10 highest-rated shows among Latinos 18-49.

The diversity of ABC’s shows isn’t only a matter of putting a few Latino maids and gardeners on the screen. There is plenty of diversity among those Latino characters.

Ferrera doesn’t think “one image can completely capture the experience of being a Latino in this country. You can be Latin and American at the same time, because that is the new experience.”

Not all has been smooth for ABC in this area. George Lopez complained loudly when his sitcom was canceled, saying that “This was an important show, and to go unceremoniously like this hurts. One hundred seventy people lost their jobs.”

Sweeney would say only that “Shows do run their course, and the feeling in the entertainment division was that the show had run its course.”

But Sweeney realizes that real diversity is very much about the writers and directors coming up through the ranks.

So Disney-ABC has taken steps to get more diversity among behind-the-camera creatives: the Disney ABC Writing Fellowship; the Writers Development Program; DGA Directing Fellowship; and the National Hispanic Media Coalition Writing Workshop. Sweeney states that this year, five graduates from this last program have been added to the staffs of various ABC shows.

Actually getting to create a show and see it placed on a network schedule, though, is another matter. “It’s not about talent. It’s about being in the right place at the right time,” says Alex Nogales, president of the National Hispanic Media Coalition. For example, “Ugly Betty” had actress-producer Salma Hayek championing the project; a Latino creator, Silvio Horta; and a talented cast with a charismatic star.

Ferrera believes the show is successful because it’s a universal story.

“Betty is different for every reason except for the fact that she is Latina,” she says. “Her culture is still a huge part of who she is, but it’s not the label on her head.”

Imagen Awards founder Helen Hernandez feels audiences want that kind of diversity, and Sweeney agrees.

“Our audience decides whether we succeed or fail,” Sweeney says, “and if we’re not reflecting our audience, we’re not successful.”

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