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The greater reality of minorities on TV

While scripted shows still largely reflect a white male society, the faces we see on reality shows are more diverse.

February 17, 2009|Greg Braxton

That's seldom the case with scripted comedies and dramas. Though the major networks -- ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC -- have in recent years made noticeable strides in assembling multicultural casts in ensemble shows such as "Heroes," "ER," "Lost" and "Grey's Anatomy," there are still only five network shows with a minority actor playing a clear central character: NBC's "Law & Order" (Anthony Anderson), ABC's "Ugly Betty" (America Ferrera), ABC's "Desperate Housewives" (Eva Longoria Parker), CBS' "The Unit" (Dennis Haysbert) and CBS' "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" (Laurence Fishburne). (In the 15 midseason network scripted series, including Fox's "Dollhouse," ABC's "In the Motherhood" and NBC's "Kings," only a few have a person of color in a central role.)

Network executives say that comparing the two genres is unfair and that scripted shows are governed by creative restrictions that don't apply to reality TV.

"When you're casting for an unscripted show, it's a much bigger universe and a whole different talent base," said Nina Tassler, president of CBS Entertainment. "It's real people versus actors.

"The casting in unscripted shows informs the storytelling," she said. "That kind of show starts as an idea, but then the story is developed by the cast. A scripted show is the brainchild of a creator who has a very specific vision."

Still, critics like Kristal Brent Zook, author of "I See Black People: Interviews With African American Owners of Radio and Television," argue that diversity behind the camera in scripted programming will increase it in front of it. "It all comes down to what goes on in the writing room," Zook said. "It's a reflection on their imagination, or lack thereof. It's going to remain this way until you bring in people with wider experience."


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