From the Chairman
Diversity — or, more specifically, the lack of it — has been a topic of concern in the entertainment industry for some time. Though progress has been made, a study released earlier this year by UCLA’s Ralph Bunche Center for African-American Studies made it clear that there is still much to be done.
For its analysis of television, the Bunche Center examined 1,061 programs that aired during the 2011–12 season on six broadcast and sixty-two cable networks. Among the findings: in lead roles on broadcast comedies and dramas, minorities were underrepresented by a factor of seven to one. On cable comedies and dramas, they were underrepresented two to one.
Results were no better behind the camera: among creators of broadcast comedies and dramas, minorities were underrepresented by a factor of nine to one, and on cable, the ratio was five to one. In other areas of the study, such as minority presence on writing staffs, among directors and at talent agencies, the data was similarly disproportionate.
While not all of the findings were negative — for instance, among lead roles on broadcast comedies and dramas, women equaled their share of the U.S. population — most of the conclusions did not reflect well on our industry.
Clearly, we need to close these gaps.
Not only is it the right thing to do, but it also makes business sense. Indeed, as noted in the Bunche Center study, movies with diverse casts perform better in terms of box office and return on investment, and in both broadcast and cable TV, programs with diverse casts deliver higher ratings.
In September this finding was affirmed, and then some, by two new series. How to Get Away with Murder, starring African-American Oscar nominee Viola Davis, set a record when its debut episode delivered the largest total-viewer increase in Live + 3 ratings for any telecast on any network.
In addition, the premiere of the comedy black-ish — whose star and one of its executive producers, Anthony Anderson, also an African-American, appears on the cover of the October 2014 issue of emmy magazine — was the second highest-rated show of its night, surpassed only by its lead-in, the Emmy-winning hit Modern Family.
It’s no coincidence that both shows air on ABC. When commissioning pilots for this season, the network had an eye out for culturally diverse stories.
As Paul Lee, president of the ABC Entertainment Group, told writer Shawna Malcom for her cover story that begins on page twenty-six, “We definitely have a mission to reflect the faces of America.”
In addition to How to Get Away with Murder and black-ish, ABC’s fall lineup includes Cristela, a comedy from Latina comic Cristela Alonzo, and its midseason slate includes Fresh Off the Boat, a comedy based on the life of Taiwanese chef Eddie Huang, and American Crime, a multi-ethnic drama created by John Ridley, the Oscar-winning writer of 12 Years a Slave.
As chairman of the Television Academy, I have sought to make diversity a priority as well.
During my tenure, we have hosted events such as “Welcome to Shondaland,” an evening with writer-producer Shonda Rhimes, creator of such hits as Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal; “Lives Worth Living,” a spotlight on the disability-rights movement; and “10 Years After The Prime Time Closet,” a look at advances in the representation of the LGBT community on TV.
Also, last year marked our first “Dynamic and Diverse” Emmy nominees’ reception, inspired by Scandal star Kerry Washington’s historic nomination for outstanding lead actress in a drama series. That gathering, presented with SAG-AFTRA Los Angeles, was such a success that we have now made it an annual event.
While I am proud of what we have done, I know that it is only the beginning. The Academy will continue its efforts to raise awareness, break down barriers and create opportunities for all.