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Asian American Coalition Blasts New Network Shows

Television * The group makes a preemptive strike, fearing it's being left out of the casting mix.

May 08, 2000|GREG BRAXTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Television networks are still a week away from announcing their new fall shows, but the first volley blasting them for an apparent lack of diversity in the new series has already been fired.

The Asian Pacific American Media Coalition, part of a group of ethnic civil rights organizations, including the NAACP, which came together last year to press for more diversity in the television industry, has formally complained to CBS, NBC, ABC and Fox about not including Asian Pacific Americans in the casts of pilots for those networks' new comedies and dramas.

The group based its conclusion in part on an analysis of the networks' early development kits that were issued in late March. Those kits contained short descriptions of shows being developed and some of the performers cast in the shows. The kits were issued before casting on the shows was completed.

Karen Narasaki, spokeswoman for the organization, said that based on the early descriptions, in addition to "word from Asian Pacific American actors in the entertainment industry," the coalition is concerned that Asian Pacific American actors and actresses may be left out of the casting mix yet again in the upcoming 2000-01 prime-time season.

"Everyone expects things to get better this year in terms of diversity, but in looking through the promotional materials, we're somewhat alarmed from what we see," said Narasaki. "While we hope that our initial assessment is wrong, it seems that Asian Pacific Americans are still virtually invisible on television."

Executives at NBC, CBS and Fox denied the charges, repeating their commitment to diversity while stressing that the development process was ongoing.

Said one CBS executive: "I would hope this group would reserve judgment until we at least announce our schedule."

ABC, which refused to provide the coalition with a development slate, did not return phone calls.

Narasaki said she felt the networks were not following through on their recent agreements with the multiethnic media coalition, which was led by National Assn. of Colored People President Kweisi Mfume, to increase diversity in front of and behind the camera. Mfume and leaders of Latino and Pacific Asian American groups blasted the four major networks for the near-exclusion of minorities in shows that premiered last fall.

According to the Asian Pacific American Media Coalition's preliminary analysis, NBC has cast two Asian Pacific Americans in their pilots. "That is the same number of roles that dogs have in NBC shows," said Narasaki. "I mean, we have to do better than the pets."

Fox didn't list any Asian Pacific Americans; CBS only listed "a stereotypical Korean grocer" in a new show, "Russo," Narasaki said. Also, she feared that CBS would cancel "Martial Law," which stars Sammo Hung.

Although the development process is continuing, and casting is in constant flux, Narasaki said she felt it was better to register concern now than wait until the fall schedule was announced and the casts were set: "We are afraid if the pool of shows with Asian Pacific Americans is so small now, it will only get smaller."

NBC on Friday issued a statement saying the network is "fully committed to diversity both on and off our air and has placed a strong emphasis on it during casting for our fall pilots, casting more then five times the number of minorities in pilot roles than last year. Our goal is to be as broadly diverse as possible, and we feel good about where we stand against that goal."

A Fox executive also stressed that network's commitment to diversity, adding that letters had been sent to executive producers of current shows and shows in development, as well as to all Fox-owned production entities, urging them to incorporate diversity on their projects.

"What this group wants isn't going to happen overnight, but it is going to happen," the executive said.

ABC last month also sent a letter to executive producers and casting agents encouraging them to make diversity a priority in current and new programming.

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