Lucie Arnaz: Network Executives Still ‘Don’t Care’ About Diversity

The Paley Center for Media honored the contributions of hispanic Americans to the television landscape, for the first time, at Cipriani Wall Street in Manhattan on Wednesday night.

The night hit the rewind button on American television to 1950, when network executives at CBS told Lucille Ball that a show about a spunky redhead married to a Cuban band leader Desi Arnaz wasn’t believable. Undeterred, Arnaz put Ball into his act, and toured the country. Eventually, CBS brass got on board.

When executives wanted to shoot the show in New York on kinescope, Arnaz, who wanted to base the show in Los Angeles, again pushed back. He suggested three cameras, a live audience and a show shot on film. CBS reluctantly agreed and the result was “I Love Lucy,” a smash hit that pulled in more than 60 million viewers, invented the re-run and set the new standard for how situational comedies would be shot for the next 50 years.

“Inadvertently he introduced Latinos to America in such a compatible way,” Lucie Arnaz, the daughter of Desi Arnaz and Ball, told Variety. “[He introduced] the music, and showed we’re not scary and we don’t all sleep under a sombrero, [that] we can be intelligent, funny, loving parents, and working people, and that’s a big deal.”

Yet, 65 years later, all of the new shows ordered this fall at CBS, her parent’s first network, have a white male lead. In response to the news, Arnaz said: “They don’t care.”

“I don’t think they wake up every morning and think, how can we make these shows more diverse,” she added. “I don’t think that is the first thing on their mind; I think economics is the first thing on their mind.”

The evening’s program featured television clips from Hispanic actors, musicians, athletes, comedians and journalists who contributed across all types of media over the last 70 years, in the face of these challenges. To highlight these contributions, the Paley Center is unveiling a collection that includes more than 500 programs and segments, including the longest running variety show, Univision’s “Sabado Gigante,” clips from Desi Arnaz’s television work and sports highlights of great Hispanic athletes from Roberto Clemente to Pele. 

Speaking on stage with actress America Ferrera, comedian and emcee for the evening George Lopez joked, “You better not have our shows on 8-track and DVDs, cabron, you better put them on digital like the white shows.”

Paley Center president and CEO Maureen J. Reidy assured that the archive has been carefully curated.

“Organizations have honored an individual or a particular show or series, but nobody has ever looked at the full history of Hispanics on television across all genres, and the Paley Center is uniquely positioned to tell this story,” said Reidy.

The evening hosted talents such as journalists Natalie Morales and Elizabeth Vargas; musicians Emilio and Gloria Estefan; NBA player Karl-Anthony Towns; and actors Luis Guzman, Edward James Olmos and Lana Parrilla. Executives, including Hearst’s executive vice chairman Frank A. Bennack Jr., NBC Universal International Group and Telemundo chairman Cesar Conde, Nielsen’s CEO Mitch Barns, SESAC’s CEO John Josephson, and Grupo Televisa exec VP Alfonso de Angoitia were also in the audience.

Another “A Tribute to Hispanic Achievements in Television” event will be held in Los Angeles on Oct. 24.

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