Turn on your television set and you’ll see more black and brown faces than ever before. But while Hollywood has added more “flavor” to its prime-time lineup, the programming still remains awfully bland.
African Americans watch 42% more television than the general population, according to the Media Research Report conducted by TN Media Inc. By their November 1999 findings, African Americans watch on average 73 hours of television per week, compared to nonblack people, who watch on average 51 hours per week. However, African Americans representation is not evenly distributed across types of roles, networks, or days of the week. In its June 2000 African American Television Report, the Screen Actors Guild found that African American characters, unlike the characters portrayed by all other races, appeared more in sitcoms than in dramatic roles.
African Americans are concentrated on the UPN and WB networks and more than half (52.5%) of all African American characters appearing in prime time are featured on seven predominantly black sitcoms, which aired on Mondays and Fridays during the fall 1999 season.
In 1999, the NAACP formed its Television & Film Diversity Initiative to increase career opportunities for people of color both in front of and behind the cameras. Since then, all four major networks, CBS, NBC, FOX, and ABC, have signed diversity agreements to “widen the pipeline of diverse talent.”
In support of the NAACP initiative, Assistant Secretary of Labor Bernard E. Anderson, reporting on a meeting of the Labor Department with executives from the television industry in April of last year, said in a speech to the Congressional Black Caucus Conference in Washington, D.C., that the Labor Department is not asking for more African American shows. What it is asking for is more diversity in all shows.