Of the total TV audience, 13.5% is now African American and 12.2% is Latino, but you wouldn't know that from channel surfing. Besides "Lost," only "ER," "Law & Order" and "Law & Order: SVU" give minority characters story lines with impact and meaning beyond their ethnicity, said Doug Alligood, senior vice president of special markets for BBDO Worldwide, who monitors viewing habits for advertisers. ABC's "Desperate Housewives," though set in white, upper-class suburbia, has Eva Longoria in a leading role where she is "allowed to play Latina, which is refreshing," he added.
The trick now, as "Lost" has shown, is to acknowledge in your storytelling the realities of an increasingly multicultural world while avoiding a big song-and-dance routine around your characters' diversity.
On "The West Wing" this season, Jimmy Smits, who is of Puerto Rican and Suriname descent, has joined the cast as a three-term Houston congressman running for president.
"We're not making a big deal about it because if you call attention to it in an overt fashion and try to make that what your story is about, I think you do a disservice to the whole idea," Wells said. "Honestly, I think it's more of a problem for those of us over 40. Younger people in this country are not identified by racial identity. The argument before was always that there haven't been successful shows with multicultural casts. But that's not true anymore. The most successful shows are the shows that portray this. It's a marketplace and the product will follow what is successful."