TV exex ponder diversity plans for shows, biz

Toppers defend lineups

With television networks under the gun to stick with diversity pledges inked many weeks ago, several of TV’s top execs brainstormed Thursday night about how best to keep their promises.

The bulk of the group, all femme TV toppers gathered at the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, defended their lineups for featuring shows with diverse talent.

“Even before the NAACP focus on the issue, (CBS) had an extraordinary record on diversity,” CBS entertainment prexy Nancy Tellem said during ATAS-sponsored “TV Talk 2000.” “We’ve always tried to appeal to the widest audience possible.”

Lifetime Entertainment chief Carole Black pointed out that the cabler’s top-rated show is the series “Any Day Now,” which stars both African-American and white characters.

But more needs to be done to racially shake things up among staffers and show talent.

“A lot of decisions happen quickly with not as much thought going into it as it should,” said WB entertainment prexy Susanne Daniels, explaining the frenzied pace of TV development. “But the NAACP has done a good job of making everyone pay more attention to (diversity).”

Elaborating, Daniels added, “Many writers won’t write for a racially diverse cast unless you prompt them to.”

Minority complex

But TV’s lack of a strong minority presence isn’t just a black and white issue.

“It should work both ways. We haven’t seen a multi-racial cast on ‘The Steve Harvey Show,’ ” Daniels said about an all African-American show that airs on her network.

Also discussed was whether or not women in general have made sufficient progress in the television biz.

“I’ve noticed that it’s very easy for women to get in the door, but to get into the top positions you have to bang the door down,” summed up CBS’ Tellem.

Seconding that, Daniels said, “I find that I now say things more dogmatically than I feel because I think it will go over more with the guys.”

Men love humor

Lifetime’s Black offered, “Men will respect humor — I find (using jokes) helpful in rooms full of men to get my point across.”

Yet Tellem remained optimistic about women’s future in television.

“All of us up here are examples,” she said.

The ATAS session, moderated by CNN’s Andria Hall, also included Black Entertainment Television prexy and chief operating officer Debra Lee and Disney/ABC Cable Networks president Anne Sweeney.

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