Ratings Fall: Women, Minorities Hardest Hit? Wednesday Arts front-page story by Edward Wyatt, "No Smooth Ride on TV Networks' Road to Diversity," bowed to '90s-era political correctness while lamenting the relative lack of black faces on television.
On the eve of Barack Obama's election last fall as the first African-American president, television seemed to be leaning toward a post-racial future. In October two prominent cable networks - CNN and Comedy Central - began new programs that featured black hosts, a development that was notable because so few current programs on cable or broadcast channels have minority leads.
Five months later both programs - "Chocolate News," featuring David Alan Grier on Comedy Central, and "D. L. Hughley Breaks the News" on CNN - have been discontinued.
After relaying similar defeats for blacks on the fictional character front in the cancellation of some black-oriented sitcoms, Wyatt wrote:
All of which raises some questions about whether television actually made any progress last fall in better reflecting the audience it serves, and whether viewers will see a return to old, monochromatic ways in the coming season. Comedy Central and CNN both said last week that their respective shows were not canceled; they simply were not continuing. Jenni Runyan, a spokeswoman for Comedy Central, whose executives declined to comment for this article, said "Chocolate News" completed its entire run of 10 episodes but was not renewed for a second season. She said the network does not talk about why shows are not renewed.
Interestingly, the Times usually reliably liberal commenters are rejecting the Times' politically correct angle, some arguing that "Chocolate News" had a problem that went beyond color - it just wasn't funny.
Does Wyatt favor some kind of quota system for television, ratings be damned? (He only mentionsratings once.) The story's online tag line gave the game away: "Recent programming moves raise questions about networks' progress in better reflecting their audience." Doesn't a show's cancellation indicate it didn't have an audience to "reflect"? It's hard to picture anyone lecturing the Times for canceling a quarterly magazine not enough people wanted to read because it allegedly reflected the Times'audience.
Wyatt later used a supportive report from the N.A.A.C.P., and a few paragraphs later,without apparent irony, employed a derogatory racial term for whites.
In a report issued last December, the N.A.A.C.P. said that the number of minority actors in regular or recurring roles on three of the four major networks had decreased markedly in the 2006-7 television season from their peaks several seasons earlier. Only ABC showed an increase in the number of minority roles during that time, according to the report, which lamented the "gross underrepresentation of minorities" in scripted entertainment.
Among the pilots under development for next season, few have cast blacks or Hispanics as lead characters. Fox has already ordered a full season of episodes of "The Cleveland Show," an animated spinoff of "Family Guy" that focuses on Cleveland Brown, an African-American character, and his family. Most of the members of that family are voiced by black actors, although Cleveland himself is the creation of Mike Henry, who is white.
Ron Taylor, the vice president for diversity development at Fox Entertainment Group, said that the choice of Mr. Henry was initially a concern at Fox, but that executives there quickly grew comfortable with his portrayal of the character, as well as with the ethnic diversity of the writing staff and the rest of the cast. Perhaps most notably, Cleveland's white, redneck neighbor, Lester, is voiced by Kevin Michael Richardson, an African-American, who also voices Cleveland Jr.