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Southern California Voices / A FORUM FOR COMMUNITY

Platform : What Does TV Do for Racial Understanding?

September 20, 1993| Compiled for The Times by Pat Konley


Assistant editor, Media & Values magazine, Los Angeles

"Life and Times" on KCET has a great moderating panel with distinct points of reference. It's not important who has the right answer, or even a solution. They're creating a dialogue.

The only negatives are on the talk show circuit. Not Donahue or Montel Williams; they ask good questions. I mean the ones like "Geraldo." When they present racial issues, they polarize the issue. You get Nazis on a show with Black Panthers so you can get them to throw chairs as well as barbs.

I think TV lags behind more on the gender issue. A lot of shows still show women doing the shopping in the supermarkets, doing the care-taking. I shop, I do laundry. When are they going to show couples sharing the drudgery? "Sisters" is good for that.


Co-chair, AFTRA/SAG Equal Opportunity Committee, N. Hollywood


I watch "Northern Exposure." It shows Native Americans and has positive portrayals of an older woman and a young woman who takes charge of her life, has a non-traditional job and stands up to men. That balances (the character) Shelly Tambo, who's an airhead.

As for morning television shows, which people turn on instead of radio, I watch the "Today" Show because it includes a person of color, Bryant Gumbel. When there's a (racial) issue, you get a different take; he asks more insightful questions.

You have to live the experience to have different questions. I have a Filipino background. When I talk to people, they ask me how long I've been here, saying I speak English very well. I tell them I've been practicing for 50-some years, since I was born in New Jersey.

Asians' absence hurts the cause (of racial understanding) since it doesn't portray American life. We work in banks, supermarkets. We're elected officials. But you couldn't tell it looking at television.


TV producer, Trabuco Canyon


I used to watch a lot of MTV. It was founded the year I got out of UCLA. For the first five or six years, I watched a ton. It was interesting and new. Sadly, if you watch rock videos now, they're more negative (about racial issues.) One side says they're telling it as it is; the other side says they're inciting. I've gotten fed up with them; they're creativity regurgitated.

The way I see things, they reinforce stereotypes; rap especially.

On the networks, I like "Northern Exposure." It shows Native Americans. The white deejay has a brother who is black. It's not preachy; it promotes harmony through interaction, story lines that show these eccentrics who accept each other.

Local news that constantly reinforces "them" versus "us" is a (problem.) "Channel 2 Action News" before they fired their news director was really horrible.


Actor/producer, North Hollywood


I'm writing, directing and producing a situation comedy about a Latino family. It will feature a woman who is a TV host, with a 10-minute segment on the evening news, sharing joint custody of the children with her ex-husband. We Latinos have to write our own projects. It's the only way to tell our stories.

(Once) there were shows like "A.K.A. Pablo" and "Viva Valdez." They're defunct so (TV executives) could say "Latino shows will never work." But they never used Latino producers or writers.

(New comedy shows like) "Culture Clash" and "Comedy Compadres" are opening windows for our talent to be showcased. It's a terrific opportunity.


Office manager, Long Beach


With two girls, 5 and 1, I have to say I like "Sesame Street." First, the kids on the show are of all colors and races. They all play and ask questions and do it all together. Plus you have Big Bird, a big yellow thing, with the other characters who are blue and green and round and short and tall. You look at what they're talking about, not what they look like.

And there's "Reading Rainbow," also on PBS. It'll show a book on a different culture, say Native Americans. Then when I'll be walking through a store I can point to it (a book) and say, "See, remember that one?" And we can talk about it all over again. Kids remember their stories.


Author, associate professor of film and TV, UCLA


Popular image is that there were no blacks on TV until the '70s with "Sanford and Son." But very early on you had "Amos 'n' Andy," the most popular radio show for 20 years, and "Beulah," about a black maid. When they were canceled, the agitation (to do that) came from middle-class blacks. Returning GIs using the GI bill didn't feel it reflected them.

Then there were no black shows (on TV). In 1957, NBC had the "The Nat King Cole Show" featuring a black performer popular in the mainstream. Though people like Peggy Lee and Tony Bennett were on it, not one sponsor bought any time for fear of a product boycott. (The network) ran public service announcements for a year.

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