Entertainment Weekly has a very important article that asks a very important question. Why is it that the only minority character to anchor a new series is Cleveland Brown — an animated character voiced by a white guy?
The show is a Family Guy spin-off called “The Cleveland Show.”
After a period of making a public effort to focus on diversity in their casting — kickstarted by an NAACP outcry over the white TV landscape in 1999 — the networks have clearly started to lose that focus, and not just when it comes to African-Americans. Today the current prime-time lineup, including fall’s 14 new scripted shows, is looking alarmingly pale. According to an Entertainment Weekly study of scripted-programming casts for the upcoming fall 2008 season, each of the five major broadcast networks is whiter than the Caucasian percentage (66.2 percent) of the United States population, as per the 2007 census estimate. And all of the networks are representing considerably lower than the Latino population percentage of 15.2 percent, with The CW — whose only lead Latina star, JoAnna Garcia, will be playing a white character named Megan Smith on Surviving the Filthy Rich — registering just 3.8 percent. After the quiet and unceremonious departure this winter of eight-season hit Girlfriends (the No. 15 show in all prime time among African-American audiences), The CW’s black comedy block (inherited from predecessor UPN) has shrunk to just two sitcoms: critical darling Everybody Hates Chris (No. 29 among African-Americans) and The Game (No. 7 among African-Americans), which have both been relegated to the dead zone known as Friday nights this fall.
“Grey’s Anatomy” creator Shonda Rhimes sees progress in her diverse cast and those of other established hits — namely Lost and Heroes. But she still cites room for improvement: ”Do I want to see any more shows where someone has a sassy black friend? No, because I’m nobody’s sassy black friend. I just want to see shows in which people get to be people and that look like the world we live in. The world is changing, and television will have to follow.” True enough: It feels downright regressive to have to point out that minorities can be stars too, at a time when Will Smith continues to dominate box offices, Oprah is the most powerful woman on television, and Barack Obama is running for the ultimate leading role (you know, of the free world).
The article ends on a note of hope:
[C]olor-blind casting is something teen-focused networks seem to have down pat: Nary a show has passed through ABC Family or The N without an interracial coupling or a naturally integrated cast. (ABC Family’s Greek even has an interracial gay couple.) Those networks’ execs say it’s a simple matter of economics, that their Gen-Y viewers accept — nay, expect and demand — such a reflection of their multi-cultural lives. ”They’re completely color-blind,” ABC Family president Paul Lee says of younger viewers. ”We’ve done a lot of things wrong as a nation, but we’ve clearly done something right here. They embrace other cultures.”