Networks diversifying

CBS names diversity senior VP; ABC rallies troops; 'Moesha'taps African-American ad firm

The diversity front was hopping last week. CBS became the second Big Four network to hire a senior-level diversity executive; ABC sent out a two-page memo to producers and casting agents stressing diversity on new and returning series, and Paramount Domestic Television chose the African Heritage Network to be its barter-sales partner on syndication sales of comedy Moesha. And that was all by last Tuesday.

Josie Thomas, who currently serves as VP of business affairs at CBS News, has been named to the new post of senior vice president of diversity at the network. This followed Fox's announcement a week earlier that it was planning to make the post a senior vice president. FOX has hired an executive search firm to find candidates and said it expects to have the position filled within the next month.

Thomas will report directly to CBS network President and CEO Leslie Moonves and will be responsible for overseeing CBS'recently announced diversity initiatives, the result of a push by the NAACP and other minority organizations. Thomas will also serve as a senior adviser to CBS News President Andrew Heyward. Thomas is a graduate of Harvard and holds a law degree from the University of California, Berkeley.

"We are pleased to have found an individual within our own organization who embodies all the qualifications we were looking for to fill this crucial new position," Moonves said.

Earlier this year, NBC named WNBC-TV executive Paula Madison its vice president of diversity. It is still unclear whether ABC will make its current director of diversity a vice president, as the NAACP and other minority groups have asked. ABC executives had no comment. But the Disney-owned network did make some news on the front last week, sending executives, producers and casting agents a letter asking their cooperation on a handful of diversity objectives.

"The ABC Television Network is dedicated to increasing diversity both in front of and behind the television camera," the letter from ABC Entertainment Television Group Co-Chairmen Lloyd Braun and Stu Bloomberg said.

The ABC letter asked for "colorblind" casting and development of shows with characters of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds. "The attainment of these objectives requires a real and ongoing sensitivity to the underlying issues and an unwavering dedication to address them," the letter concluded.

And in an unusual move for Viacom-owned Paramount Domestic Television, the studio announced last week that the syndication barter sales for sitcom Moesha will be sold by The African Heritage Network. Under terms of the agreement, AHN will sell the sitcom's national broadcast inventory rather than Paramount's own in-house division, Paramount Advertiser Services. "With such a high-profile series as Moesha, it made sense to hire an ad sales company with expertise in this niche-specific market," Paramount Domestic Television Co-Presidents Joel Berman and Frank Kelly said.

African Heritage Network is the U.S.'s largest African-American owned-and-operated marketing, sales and distribution company. Although the move followed pushes by an NAACP-led coalition to expand its diversity efforts to UPN, The WB and the two networks parent companies, Paramount said the decision was simply smart business.