Civil Rights groups recently announced their findings on television diversity and the verdict is, well, muddled. Things are getting better, but still not good enough. Two ABC shows, Grey’s Anatomy and Ugly Betty, received the highest marks, but every network has a long way to go. You can read the full AP story here. This will always be a difficult issue for television, and something that I have mixed feelings about. Obviously, I’m all for diversity on TV. There needs to be more and there have been some egregious examples in the past of popular shows that contained almost zero diversity over their life spans.
NBC’s two big comedies of the 90’s, Friends and Seinfeld, were a couple of the biggest culprits. Friends has always received some well-documented criticism for its all white cast, something that was borderline ridiculous given its New York City setting. Seinfeld had only one significant black character that I can recall (lawyer Jackie Chiles) and he was featured in, probably, less than ten episodes. The difficult part about this is that any show can defend their lack of diversity. They can say that their all-white cast occurred out of happenstance or that they didn’t want to force unnecessary diversity. In this regard, I agree. You can’t punish or hinder creativity by forcing writers to create a role for someone of a certain ethnicity. Then again, the ethnicity shouldn’t matter. Look at Grey’s Anatomy. Shonda Rhimes, who is black, cast Grey’s Anatomy blind. She wrote every character without a predetermined race and then cast the roles with whoever she deemed best for them, race be damned. The result is the most diverse and talented cast on TV. I’ve written about this before, but Grey’s benefits greatly from this diversity. There is at least one person on the show that almost any viewer can connect with. And now Grey’s is the most popular show in the country. Ugly Betty is also diverse, but in a different way. Grey’s Anatomy doesn’t harp on the cultural aspects of its characters. Ugly Betty delves into the Hispanic culture, more so than any show in the history of American network television. Betty’s success should open the door for culturally specific programming that would previously been viewed as ratings poison. It is clear that diversity and commercial success can go hand in hand. While I’m not for the implementation of forced diversity, the current climate of television should signal to network executives that they should produce shows that feature more Preston Burkes and Betty Suarez’s, rather than the same old Chandler and Monicas. -Oscar Dahl, BuddyTV Senior Writer
Senior Writer, BuddyTV