Daytime’s Other Drama

Despite its popularity with black audiences, daytime television discounts black talent in front of, and behind, the camera. These industry insiders are pushing for change.

Live, and The View (produced by ABC Daytime and Barbara Walters’ production company). “We have made strides in adding diverse contract roles,” says Turner, “but we could do better.”

General Hospital has only one black performer under contract, All My Children has three, and One Life to Live has two. Of NBC’s dramas, Days of Our Lives has four black contract roles out of a total 31, while Passions has six out of 26. A contract actor generally signs on for three years and is a major part of the core storylines. An actor with a recurring role, on the other hand, portrays a principal character intermittently. Then there are extras and actors who have fewer than five lines.

“Across the board, the networks have done a better job,” says Ray Bradford, national director of equal employment opportunities at the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA). He says two factors affect overall employment: One, “Soaps are losing audience share and are making production cuts. Many are trying to find new outlets such as SOAPnet (the ABC-owned cable channel).” Two, he explains, “Most black actors have been relegated to secondary characters such as a judge or villain, making it tougher to break into long-term core family roles.”

Given the popularity of soaps among African American and Latino viewers, integrating people of color into a show’s core of families should be a no-brainer. But Bradford notes that there is a disconnect between the networks and their audiences. For the first time in 10 years, AFTRA bestowed its American Scene Award to a daytime program. CBS’ The Young and the Restless was recognized for its commitment to on-air diversity storylines sensitive to minority issues. Bradford says that The Young and the Restless has the best integration of characters in terms of race, class, and age.

The Young and the Restless, the No.1 rated soap opera, boasts a huge African American following (15 million viewers worldwide) and a significant black cast (seven contract and four recurring players). In addition to The Young and the Restless, CBS’ daytime lineup includes soap operas As the World Turns, The Bold and Beautiful, Guiding Light, and game show The Price is Right. All of these shows are among the top 10 rated shows among African American viewers, according to Nielsen.

Actress Victoria Rowell is celebrating her 14th year with The Young and the Restless. In 1990, the classically trained ballet dancer landed the part of Drucilla Winters. Her entrée into daytime was in a contract role. “Since I came from prime-time television and feature films … I had some leverage.” Rowell had graced the pages of Seventeen and Mademoiselle magazines before landing her first television role on The Cosby Show (she was later cast as Bill Cosby’s daughter in the film Leonard Part VI). The 30-something, Daytime-Emmy-nominated actress has been involved in her character’s development since the outset, “I have always been proactive, from what I wear to what I say.”

Despite its popularity for its black actors, The Young and

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