The TV networks are accused of racial insensitivity |


The TV networks are accused of racial insensitivity

Ken Tucker suggests ways to bring more minorities to TV -- and names the summer's best new show

The TV networks are accused of racial insensitivity

The president of the NAACP, Kweisi Mfume, has termed the coming fall’s major-network lineup a ”virtual whitewash,” calling it ”an outrage, and a shameful display by network executives who are either clueless, careless, or both.” He was talking about the virtual absence of black, Latino, or Asian actors in prominent roles in the new shows premiering on ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox. Mfume called this ”a glaring omission,” adding that ”African-Americans make up 13 percent of the population; we feel that our presence should be appropriately reflected.”

I think Mfume makes an undeniably good point, but in a no-win manner. By which I mean, no way are any of these networks going to say, ”OK, we’ll be sure that 13 percent of our shows contain African-American actors.” A quota system based on how many black faces we see on screen won’t solve this problem. Rather, I think there ought to be more black faces behind the cameras – as producers, directors, writers – whom the networks should allow to create a variety of shows. Inevitably, this would result in a wider range of emotions and thoughts emanating from characters of all colors.

It’s nice that heavyweight producer Steven Bochco is planning a mid-season show with a predominantly black cast. But with all due respect to Bochco and very little for the networks, there should be a few black-created series on the nets’ schedules that would receive the same sort of commitment and promotion that a Bochco production routinely commands.

That said, I’ll give a plug to the best new show of the summer, the USA networks’ ”GvsE” – which costars a black actor: Richard Brooks, once of ”Law & Order.” Dig it: Brooks and costar Clayton Rohner are two dead guys risen from the grave by minions of God to battle hell-spawned ”morlocks” on Earth. It’s sort of ”Touched By an Angel to Kick Butt.” Produced by the brother team of Josh and Jonas Pate, ”GvsE” has a smashing visual style – oddball camera placements, tinted colors seeping into scenes, jump cuts that would make Jean-Luc Godard’s neck snap – and Brooks is a hoot. Sporting an Afro that looks like a bowling ball resting on his head, he’s a modern-day Shaft with end-of-the-century smarts and irony. Hey, Mr. Mfume, check it out – it’s not the stirring deep drama you (and I) want (and need). But it’s a start.