To paraphrase NBC's marketing slogan, has prime time become "less colorful"? Looking at the casting of this fall's new TV series, the groups that monitor TV diversity think so.
Unlike last year, when at least nine new shows boasted leading roles for black, Latino and Asian-American actors (including NBC's now canceled Undercovers and Outlaw and The CW's returning Nikita), next year most minority characters are supporting roles. The networks are also airing more comedies next fall — and in recent years, half-hour sitcoms have been less diverse than dramas.
That's why there's concern that the strides made by network diversity efforts are being erased. The trend is to "sprinkle in some African-Americans or Latinos as the second or third character," says Vic Bulluck, who heads the NAACP's Hollywood branch. That's despite 2010 census data, which show that the U.S. Hispanic/Latino population now makes up 16.3 percent of the country, while Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders constitute 5 percent and African-Americans 12.6 percent.
Execs say they take diversity seriously but could do better. "Network TV has come a long way...but there is always a need for and a desire to improve," says Nicole Bernard, Fox's senior VP of audience strategy.
There's reason for optimism. Minorities have lead roles in at least three new shows: Eddie Cibrian in NBC's The Playboy Club; Annie Ilonzeh in ABC's Charlie's Angels; and Kerry Washington in ABC's mid-season drama Scandal. Bulluck is also excited to see that one of the girls on Fox's I Hate My Teenage Daughter is biracial, while National Hispanic Media Coalition president Alex Nogales sees hope in castings such as Ramón Rodríguez playing Bosley on Charlie's Angels and Lana Parrilla as the mayor/evil queen in ABC's Once Upon a Time.
Some of it still comes down to educating writers. Last year, Fox Entertainment president Kevin Reilly held a conference with show runners, writers and casting directors to push for more minority representation. And CBS plans to gather its show runners for a meeting with the various minority coalitions. Says Bob Mendez, senior vice president of diversity at Disney/ABC TV Group: "It's a constant conversation we have, making diversity organic to how we do business."