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Report: Networks better, but need improvement

Coalition urges shows to broaden diversity

LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- A coalition of minority groups has handed prime-time TV a report card.

While none of the big four networks gets a failing grade, none steps to the head of the class, either.

The coalition, composed of Latino, African-American, Asian-American and Native-American groups, did not assign specific grades to ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox. Instead, it held them to a pass/fail standard in assessing its hiring of minorities in front of and behind the cameras.

The networks have hired more African-Americans following complaints of a virtual on-air white-out last season, notes the coalition, which announced its findings earlier this month.

"African-Americans ... have more and better access to on-air opportunities and to production, writing and directing positions," says Debbie Liu, a spokesperson for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. "But this by no means means the playing field has been leveled."

A spin around the dial reveals many black actors in lead roles. Among them:

Andre Braugher as the chief of experimental medicine at a prestigious Boston hospital in "Gideon's Crossing" (ABC).

Chi McBride as the school principal on "Boston Public" (Fox).

Rocky Carroll as the self-absorbed morning-show anchor on "Welcome to New York" (CBS).

David Alan Grier as the Secret Service agent assigned to protect the first lady in "DAG" (NBC).

Mykelti Williamson as Lt. Gerard "The Fugitive" (CBS), a role previously played by white actors.

The roles are examples of smart casting, says actress Lynn Thigpen, one of several minority players on "The District," a CBS show set in Washington, D.C. "It's impossible to have a show in an urban situation, a city, and have all of the cast members white," she says.

Other minority groups deserve a chance as well, adds her African-America co-star, Sean Patrick Thomas. "The protest of the last year or two has mainly benefited black people, which is great for me, " he says. "But I have Asian friends and Indian friends that would like to get a shot, too."

The coalition agrees. Networks are failing to feature Asian Americans on shows set in such culturally diverse cities as New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, the groups say. Asian-American Lucy Liu is one of the few exceptions, playing a Boston lawyer in "Ally McBeal." "Dark Angel" star Jessica Alba is nearly the sole standard bearer for the Latino community.

"Gideon's Crossing," starring Andre Braugher, is one show that features minorities in leading roles  

Both shows air on Fox, which in August hired Mitsy Wilson as the network's senior vice president of diversity.

"As you look at our new season, what you begin to see is that diversity thread being woven throughout our new shows and ... being woven throughout our existing shows," says Wilson, formerly Times-Mirror Co.'s top diversity executive.

But those steps forward were followed by one step back last week as CBS pulled the plug on "City of Angels." Steven Bochco's hospital drama featured a predominantly minority cast and crew, but failed to get acceptable ratings in its Thursday night time slot.

Change comes slowly to TV, says Raul Yzaguirre, who represents Latino groups and interests.

"We need to move from the old days of black-and-white television to the new days of Technicolor, multicolor television," he says.



RELATED STORY:
CBS strikes down 'City of Angels'
November 22, 2000

RELATED SITE:
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People

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