USA Today dedicated several pieces published today on diversity in television, including a “Diversity Report Card” which details, as the title suggests, how well the major broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, CW, FOX and NBC) are doing in terms of the “D” word, and an overall ranking of them.
Based on their research, with 20 new scripted TV series (comedies and dramas) debuting this fall on the big 5 networks, more than a third of the actors are racially or ethnically diverse. Eighteen series have actors from under-represented groups in lead roles, which is 12 more than there were 5 years ago, with ABC and Fox leading the charge. Also the USA Today report states that more shows are highlighting diverse themes and experiences, and not just inserting black, Latino or Asian American actors/characters.
So USA TODAY assigned each major network a letter grade using the following criteria:
— The ethnic and racial makeup of scripted primetime fall 2016 series;
— The percentage of leading roles that makeup represents;
— And the prevalence of diverse themes in the shows.
And with that analysis, here are the assigned grades to each network:
— ABC gets an A-
— Fox gets a B+
— The CW gets a C+
— CBS gets a C-
— NBC gets a C-
That ABC is leading shouldn’t be a surprise, given their Thursday night Shonda Rhimes/Shondaland lineup; there’s also “Black-Ish” and “Fresh Off the Boat,” based on chef Eddie Huang’s best-selling memoir of the same name, which takes a humorous look at the lives of Taiwanese immigrants in America.
Of course Fox has one of the biggest shows on TV right now in “Empire.” There’s also “Rosewood,” the “Lethal Weapon” TV series, and more. I’m actually surprised that they aren’t at the top of the ranking.
CBS has likely been the worst of the big 5 networks when it comes to diversity and inclusiveness, but maybe surprisingly they’re actually in line with NBC. I remember, not terribly long ago, when NBC was the go-to channel for black shows – that late 1980s/early 1990s period when they were home to shows like “The Cosby Show,” “A Different World,” “Amen,” “227,” even “L.A. Law” had Blair Underwood, Jimmy Smits and A Martinez; and all of these series aired at around the same period; some of them on the same night.
As for The CW, well, I’ll just say that it had a more diverse lineup of primetime programming when it was UPN and The WB (both merged to create The CW in 2006).
The USA Today report also makes the case for why diversity is a good thing for the TV business (but, of course!), speaking to some industry executives.
“We recognized pretty quickly this was not about social good, this was about good commerce,” says Gary Newman, co-chairman of Fox Television Group. “When you have a country as diverse as ours, you just have to have programming that appeals to different groups.”
“People have begun to recognize how much money they can make by targeting underserved audiences,” says Courtney A. Kemp, the creator and executive producer of “Power,” the Starz series. “The color that’s relevant here is green. It’s not about any kind of altruism, or a sea change in how people are feeling about diversity.”
Pretty much! The question now is whether this apparent new awareness will be registered as just another blip, and a decade from now, the diversity conversation will still very much be a conversation. Let’s be optimistic and instead hope that this reflects a real shift, as TV executives have to chase viewers thanks to the radical developments the industry overall has seen in how and where audiences find and consume their entertainment.
U.S. Census data projects the percentage of blacks, Hispanics and Asians will continue to grow in coming decades, while the percentage of whites declines; which, in part, helps explain the fanatic support of Donald Trump. And, according to Nielsen, black audiences are among the most loyal viewers, watching nearly 50% more TV each week than the general population, which is noteworthy at a time when ratings overall are facing a steady decline.
In the video below, watch a summary of USA Today’s diversity report ranking: