As television focuses on diversity and inclusion in front of and behind the camera, broadcasters, cable networks and streamers alike are finding ways to include more women and people of color among their ranks. The small screen is known for being more diverse than the big screen — for reasons at the intersections of cost and inventory — but exactly how to mix up crews, casts and corporate staff is still not a perfect science.
“When Paul [Telegdy] and I first took this job, we both acknowledged that diversity and inclusion is not [just] an initiative for us, it’s something that needs to organically be a part of the company that we’re leading,” says George Cheeks, co-chairman of NBC Entertainment.
Telegdy will be among the speakers at Variety’s TV Summit on June 12 at 1 Hotel in West Hollywood.
There were already a few programs and initiatives focused on finding more women, people of color and other underrepresented perspectives for leadership positions at NBC before Cheeks and Telegdy took the reins. However, Cheeks notes they have tried to identify “areas where there’s a problem,” and “jumped in with [new] initiatives right away” to further progress. Now NBC features three programs focused on diverse writers; three for directors; two for below-the-line, including a production coordinator program and production assistant initiative; and one for comedic talent.
And while the brand previously focused on three key principles designed to foster humanity, positivity and ingenuity, Telegdy is also proud that in the first week of his and Cheeks’ chairmanship they added a fourth pillar: “Intentional Inclusivity,” in “what is a signal that diversity and inclusion are at the center of our agenda.”
NBC also works with outside scorekeepers to track and analyze their corporate and production makeup, in order to be held accountable, the duo says.
Such numbers are also important to AMC Networks, according to president of its entertainment group, Sarah Barnett, another panelist at the summit.
“On the production level, we work with groups like ReFrame, who are out there paying attention across the industry to what’s happening,” Barnett says. “We think it’s important that we’re not just measuring ourselves, but that we have the objectivity of external groups that are letting us know how we’re doing.”
Showtime Entertainment’s president Gary Levine, another panelist, admits to not being focused on quantitative and data-driven information, but rather on content. To that end, he considers the network’s growing slate inclusive because it is centered on “honest examinations of human behavior with all of its interesting flaws.”
When it comes to self-assessment of the company, Levine says it’s a work in progress: “There’s a history of diversity and inclusion in the long history of Showtime, but I think it’s fair to say a few years ago we looked at our schedule and we felt it was not as diverse as it should be, and we made a concerted effort to broaden the range of our programming.”
Levine points to various creators such as Lena Waithe and on-screen talent including Don Cheadle and late-night hosts Desus Nice and the Kid Mero as examples. But he adds that behind-the-scenes changes within the corporate structure have become essential, too.
“When you bring in people of color [to create and run shows], they insist on representation,” he says. “Our job is to empower them to bring their sensibility, not just to the voice of the show, not just to what you see on-screen, but in everything that happens behind the camera. It’s definitely a domino effect in the best possible way.”
Meanwhile, rising streamer Tubi is uniquely positioned in that its content strategy is to offer licensed content, not originals. That means executives at the company can influence what titles are acquired, and the makeup of its own ranks, but not what is happening behind-the-scenes of productions.
Tubi’s chief content officer Adam Lewinson, who will also participate in the TV Summit, says the company is made up of fewer than 200 people, with a workforce of “51% white and 49% minority,” with the latter including African American, Latinx, Asian and multiracial employees.
Unlike other company goals (i.e. revenue growth, content growth, market share) the area of inclusion still doesn’t have a clear, shared benchmark to reach, a timeline for reaching said benchmark, nor a rubric from which to grade success, though. The top brass at these networks is consistently being asked if inclusion is just a trend or a true shift in the industry. While it appears long-term commitment to representation exists, the lack of measurable goals and data still raises more questions than provides answers.
Pictured: Showtime’s “Desus & Mero”