Network Television Blackout

From Tracy Morgan to Whoopi Goldberg and Queen Latifah, more African Americans are gracing the television screen. While all four major television networks have made incremental increases in hiring minorities for on-air television roles, behind-the-camera hiring and promotion of writers, producers, directors, and executives remain virtually frozen demographically, according to the NAACP’s 2003 TV Diversity Report.

The report covers the 2000-2003 television seasons, based on information provided by the four major networks: ABC, CBS, NBC, and FOX. In front of the camera, CBS and FOX hold the lead. The FOX network has more minority actors than any of its three major competitors, employing 121 minorities in a regular or recurring role last season. CBS employed a record high of 99 minorities in a regular or recurring role; NBC, 81; and ABC, 74.

With respect to directing, ABC employed just eight minority directors and CBS employed only 10. At NBC, the network reported that 10% of its episodes last season were directed by minorities, but did not provide the number of minority directors employed. FOX reported that in the 2002-2003 season, it employed 27 directors of color who directed 81 primetime episodes.

In the 2000-2001 season, according to the NAACP, CBS reported that it employed only nine minority writers, and last season, that number remained the same. Notably, CBS is the only network that employs a minority in the lead creative position of show runner: Pam Veasey, an African American woman, on The District.

ABC fared a little better in writing. In the 2000-2001 season, ABC reported that it employed 12 minority writers; and in the 2002-2003 season, that number increased to 19. Similarly, at NBC, in the 2000-2001 season, the network reported that it employed less than 18 minority writers. Last season, that number rose to 24. FOX was the only network that provided information that gave a clearer picture in the area of writing. In 1999, only 5% of the writers employed by FOX on its primetime schedule were minority. That number rose to 24.4% in 2002.