Amid the exultation of winning, Emmy victors backstage weren’t shy about grappling with perhaps the thorniest issue facing the TV biz these days: the lack of minority representation in primetime and in the executive suites.
“I support any pressure on the networks for change,” said Paris Barclay, who won for drama series directing for “NYPD Blue.” He’ll also be co-exec producing the Steven Bochco medical drama “City of Angels,” set in an inner city hospital with a predominantly minority cast — thanks to Bochco’s clout, Barclay noted. But he said “Angels” is the exception in a season that has drawn criticism as a virtual “whitewash” of primetime.
Barclay, like others, noted that the problem stems from the lack of minority execs involved in developing and choosing the shows that make it onto the fall sked.
“The people in those rooms who make those (program) selections are all white. That isn’t a bad thing, but it’s one reason why we’re seeing that TV is looking so much the same,” Barclay said. In the casting process for CBS’ “City of Angels,” Barclay noted, “we had 10 people in each role to chose from. Nobody else is hiring these actors.”
John Leguizamo, a winner for his HBO spec of his Broadway show “John Leguizamo’s Freak,” echoed Barclay’s sentiment.
At times, Leguizamo noted, the bit parts offered to minority thesps are downright demoralizing for up-and-coming actors. “I started to feel like if I got offered one more cocaine-drug-dealin’-mafia-prince role, I was going to have to go out there and hurt somebody.”
Realistically, the prospects for minority thesps are improving, Leguizamo added, but it’s a slow process.
“It’s getting better marginally,” he said. “There could be a lot better roles. You still don’t see the breakthrough roles. You don’t see the upscale Latins that I meet in my life — the doctors, the lawyers, the writers.
“I think the audience is there — I was on Broadway and we were sold out our entire run. I don’t think the audience is missing. It’s really about making an effort to search out the talent.”
Allan Arkush, a director winner for the mini “The Temptations,” said that NBC’s success with the story of the pioneering Motown group disproves the notion that programs revolving around the experiences of minority groups won’t draw a broad-based audience.
“We won the night two nights in a row,” said Arkush. “The show was a critical success, and yet when you look at TV today, you don’t see many shows like ours.”
Comedian Chris Rock, whose humor often plays off racial themes, was only half joking in asserting that the problem stems from who controls the levers of power in the media.
“White people own (the TV biz). It’s their stuff and they don’t want us to own it,” Rock said, after winning the writing kudos for a variety or music program for his HBO talker “The Chris Rock Show.”
“So we have to do our own stuff. I sat around two years ago after I won two Emmys and I was supposedly the hottest guy in Hollywood. I didn’t get any scripts. I had to write my own movie,” the writer-performer said.
Rock cited Richard Pryor and Woody Allen as inspirations in the do-it-yourself comedy school. “You’ve gotta do your own stuff. You can’t wait around for people to give you stuff.”