NAACP: Biz short on diversity again

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The NAACP Hollywood Bureau has issued a report saying that the entertainment industry "continues to fall seriously short" in achieving diversity, particularly in television.

The report, "Out of Focus, Out of Sync — Take 4," argues that minorities are underrepresented in nearly all facets of the film and TV business and are denied access to top positions. It says that "employment and promotion opportunities for minorities are directly tied to highly subjective practices, a closed roster system and potentially discriminatory guild membership practices."

The report also says the "serious shortage" of minorities on primetime TV is linked to the "virtual disappearance" of black programming since UPN and the WB merged into the CW two years ago, as well as a drop-off in minorities in recurring roles and a diminished role on the part of networks in developing young minority talent.

"At a time when the country is excited about the election of the first African-American president in U.S. history, it is unthinkable that minorities would be so grossly underrepresented on broadcast television," NAACP president and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous said.

Vicangelo Bulluck, executive director of the NAACP Hollywood Bureau, added that the lack of primetime programming created by, for and about minorities is related to the fact that there are "few" black people in top executive positions with the ability to greenlight new series or make final creative decisions.

At the same time, the report praises the Big Four networks for making "important strides" in casting actors of color and emphasizing the recruitment of minorities in creative positions. According to the report, ABC had more minority actors in regular and recurring roles on scripted series than any other Big Four network during the 2006-07 season: 116, up from 68 in 2005-06. CBS was next with 76 (down from 79), followed by NBC with 64 (down from 85) and Fox with 51 (up from 47). Series singled out for praise include "The Unit" (CBS), "Heroes" (NBC) and "Grey's Anatomy" and "Ugly Betty" (ABC).

The study says "Unit" is the only Big Four show centered on a black actor, but the CW, which the NAACP did not subject to as detailed analysis as it did the Big Four, airs two shows with mostly black casts — "Everybody Hates Chris" and "The Game" — and MyNetworkTV, not mentioned in the report, airs freshman series "The Tony Rock Project" and debuted the Flavor Flav-led "Under One Roof" in fall 2007. The study, though, also does not include data for the 2007-08 season or fall 2008.

The report argues that progress has been slower in writing and producing, with black writers accounting for only 5.2% of working scribes. It adds that Latinos and Asian-Americans also "face barriers" in those areas, with a minimal increase in employed writers from both groups from 2005-06 to 2006-07. Meanwhile, Native Americans are a "faceless, voiceless group" in TV, according to the report.

The NAACP report said reality shows tend to be more diverse in casting than are scripted series. It points to Fox's "American Idol" as "one of the most diverse shows on television."

The report recommends that a task force of network executives, educators and NAACP advocacy partners update the "Memorandum of Understanding" between the networks and the NAACP and its partners, with a goal of creating the "best practice standards throughout the industry."

The networks declined comment on the report.
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