Whatever their ethnicity, executives need to change the way they think, say minority leaders. And it's up to the big bosses like CBS' Leslie Moonves and NBC's Jeff Zucker to make sure that happens. ''The top guy has to say, 'You're not getting a goddamn bonus unless you start repopulating your shows with the way America really is,''' says Nogales. Of course, it's about more than simply sprinkling additional minorities throughout shows it's about giving those characters meaningful story lines that blend in seamlessly with their surroundings. ''I don't just want to see a black face or a Latino face or whatever,'' says Wilmore. ''People need to have roles on these shows that are dynamic and not just place marks.'' Adds Brock Akil, ''I think that's why Grey's Anatomy has been so successful. It's a very organic atmosphere, and the interaction between the characters of different races is very relatable.''
That kind of color-blind casting is something teen-focused networks seem to have down pat: Nary a show has passed through ABC Family or The N without an interracial coupling or a naturally integrated cast. (ABC Family's Greek even has an interracial gay couple.) Those networks' execs say it's a simple matter of economics, that their Gen-Y viewers accept nay, expect and demand such a reflection of their multi-cultural lives. ''They're completely color-blind,'' ABC Family president Paul Lee says of younger viewers. ''We've done a lot of things wrong as a nation, but we've clearly done something right here. They embrace other cultures.'' Perhaps it's no surprise, then, that the most high-profile minority casting for the fall is on another teen show The CW's 90210 remake, where African-American actor Tristan Wilds (The Wire) will play the central white family's adopted son. ''When we talked about how to make it more contemporary, diversity was a big part of that,'' Ostroff says. ''It feels as if it's a very modern family scenario.''
That said, 8 of the 10 regulars on 90210 are white (in addition to Wilds, Ecuadorian actor Michael Steger will play a student at West Beverly High). But at least we still have Cleveland Brown. ''Let's hope that he busts that door wide open,'' jokes Wilmore. ''If he can't do it, then I don't know who can.''
Additional reporting by Tanner Stransky
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