Grading the Graders: Network TV Diversity Report Cards Get a Failing Grade From Me
Regular readers of this space know I care quite a lot about diversity issues on network TV. And that's why I always cringe whenever the Multiethnic Media Coalition presents it's annual diversity report card for the networks, which they released yesterday.
Vague and influenced by whatever successful shows are on the dial at the time, the report card offers grades on diversity in acting, writing directing and other categories. What it doesn't do, is tell you very many specific figures, though every network but Fox provides detailed information on diversity figures for their analysis. So there's no way to know what amount of roles for Latino actors led the National Latino Media Council to give ABC an A grade this year (though Emmy wins for the Latino-led series Ugly Betty, at left, probably helped).
This is the central gripe network types have always had about this exercise, which includes advocacy groups for Hispanics, Asian Pacific Islanders and Native Americans (advocacy groups for black people left the coalition long ago). It's tough to take a letter grade to heart, if you don't know specifically what earned it.
Each ethnic group releases its own report card and they're all accessible through the NHMC's Web site here. The analysis by the Asian American Justice Center offers the most detail, noting that only 29 Asian Americans were cast in regular prime time series roles this year (unfortunately, they don't say how many roles there are in total this season, so it's hard to gauge how this number of roles stacks up against the proportion of Asian Americans in the population -- a common goal).
Critics have also noted the report card doesn't deal with cable TV, which likely offers more diversity in programming.
Overall, the Hispanic group gives the networks As and Bs, while the Asian American group gives the networks Cs and C+s, which is probably an accurate reflection of how well the networks have featured each group in their operations. But there are other institutions which have done a better job of analyzing these numbers, including the kids advocacy group Children Now and the Screen Actors Guild; neither group has done a recent diversity analysis, however.
Privately, network executives are quite cynical about this effort, which they see as unfair and arbitrary. My own suspicion is that, even though we're seeing a bit more diversity onscreen than in years past, more of these roles are focused on best friend and supporting parts. I would know for sure if the coalition posted it's raw data on the Web site for the public to sort through.
That's why I'm giving the Network TV Diversity Report Card a D grade -- for good intentions implemented not so well. Hope that doesn't sound too vague.