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Latinos Fare Best In Diversity Effort

Advocacy groups rate the new season for minorities on TV 10/19/2003 08:00:00 PM Eastern

When it came time to decide what to do with ABC's midseason crime show, Dragnet, the network thought that diversifying the cast to better represent Los Angeles would help increase the show's appeal.

"We didn't think Dragnet
was reflective of L.A. or that it showed off the city like we wished it would," says Lance Taylor, senior vice president of current programming at ABC Entertainment. "We asked [executive producer] Dick Wolf if he'd be willing to diversify the cast, and he said he would."

When Dragnet
came back this fall, it had a different name, a different cast and a different time slot. Retitled L.A. Dragnet, the show moved to Saturdays at 10 p.m. ET from Sundays at 10 p.m. The cast was still led by Ed O'Neill, as Lieutenant Joe Friday, but, instead of working with one partner, Friday is charged with mentoring a group of young detectives, played by African-American Evan Clarke, Asian-American Christina Chang, and Latinas Eva Longoria and Roselyn Sanchez.

The changes reflect a growing awareness by the Big Four broadcast networks that an expanding audience is non-Caucasian and wants to see itself reflected on the small screen.

Last week, the National Latino Media Council (NMLC) and the Asian-Pacific American Media Coalition (APAMC) released their annual report cards on the state of minority representation by the Big Four. American Indians in Film and Television (AIFT) participated in the press conference but chose not to release a report, saying that, although virtually no Native Americans are represented on prime time television, the group is talking with the networks.

The biggest advocacy group, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), did not participate, choosing to release its own report card on Monday, Oct. 27.

So far this season, Latinos appear to be faring best on broadcast TV, prompting NLMC to give Fox a B+ for its efforts and ABC a B, noting the revamp of L.A. Dragnet. NBC and CBS each received C+, although NLMC said, if Kingpin
had stayed on NBC's air, the network would have gotten a better grade. The groups' report cards cover only the new prime time schedules.

"All of the networks have finally come to the realization that it' s good business to incorporate people of color into their programs," said NLMC President Alex Nogales.

Fox won the highest grade from NLMC not only for Latino-themed shows like Luis
and The Ortegas
(although it has been put off to midseason at least) but also for its commitment to working with minority- and woman-owned business to procure goods.

"We have worked extremely hard as an organization to become champions of diversity," says Mitsy Wilson, senior vice president of diversity development, Fox Entertainment Group. "[Chairman] Sandy Grushow and [President] Gail Berman have been agents of change, and we've begun to see change because of the initiatives we've put in place."

APAMC gave NBC and Fox the highest grade, a B-; ABC a C-; and CBS a D+, up from last year's D-. "The new fall shows were stunning in the near total absence of Asian/Pacific-Americans in any roles of significance," said APAMC Chair Karen Narasaki. "With the exception of NBC, the major networks have made almost no progress since last year in providing great opportunities for Asian/Pacific-American actors."

NLMC gave all four networks an A for overall commitment. Last summer, CBS announced The Diversity Institute, and, in the past four years, all have created a post of vice president of diversity.

"Achieving true diversity across the entire network continues to be a high priority," says Alex Wallau, president of ABC Television Network. "While we appreciate the coalition's acknowledgement of the job we're doing, we are working every day to find new and creative ways to further this important effort."

NBC said in a statement, "Since signing our agreement with the minority coalition in 2000, NBC has increased minority representation 126% in its prime time schedule; this includes an 88% increase in Hispanic characters, 150% among Asian/Pacific Islanders and 100% among Native Americans."

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