I Used to Really Like Television

Posted: October 8, 2010 in Uncategorized

As much as possible, I try to keep up with what’s happening in popular culture.  So there I am flipping through the Fall TV issue of Entertainment Weekly.  My question: “Where did the diversity on network television go?” It seems that diversity is a thing of the past or a thing of the future.

I’m a big fan of Science Fiction. So I take pride in the fact that Science Fiction TV shows (like Lost, Battlestar Galactica and Star Trek) oftentimes have the most ethnically diverse casts. Clearly racial diversity and integration is the stuff of fantasy and the very distant future.  Interesting bit of trivia: the very first inter-racial kiss on television was on Star Trek between Kirk and Uhura. (Granted the kiss was forced by alien mind control, but still, way ahead of its time).

So the latest issue of EW reviews the shows for the upcoming fall season.  The complete lack of diversity on television is amazing, particularly the new shows. About a decade ago, there was an Asian-American radio personality that addressed the issue of the lack of diversity on network television.  She stated that you could put the word “white” in front of nearly every network show and you would have a pretty apt description of the television shows: “White” Friends / Dawson’s “White” Creek / Third “White” Rock from the Sun / “White” Party of Five.  If not for the courage of the UPN, the 90’s would be lost. The 90’s would be lost.

So let’s play the game with the new round of Fall shows: “White” Lone Star (which apparently is a show about the only place in Texas that only has white people and NO Latinos) / Raising “White” Hope (ditto – but probably in some non-descript Southern California neighborhood) / No Ordinary “White” Family (with the typical black sidekick, minor character) / and the Good “White” Guys.

A few exceptions: Grey’s Anatomy does a pretty decent job.  But really, only one Asian on a medical show . . . in Seattle? Glee – with its multi-ethnic cast featured on a full two-page ad in the magazine.  Actually features Asians — but they’re mostly in the background and barely say anything. (And did anyone notice that in the ad in EW, the Asian male is the only member of the cast that isn’t pictured). And the promos for Undercovers – but honestly, if the article had not harped on how they were black actors, I’m not sure I would have noticed.  Just being honest here.  And of course, Hawaii Five-O.  But how ridiculous is it that a show based in Hawaii, the state with the highest concentration of Asians in the United States, has the two main leads be white males and with a supporting cast of Asians, one of whom has the very important acting challenge of appearing in a bikini in every episode – that would be Jin from LOST.

So what’s going on?  Why so few black bodies, or brown bodies, or even yellow bodies on television?


  1. The Burner says:

    I’ll take a stab as an aspiring screenwriter and an advertising major in undergrad.

    Screenwriter’s take: Most writers I know are white–especially on the TV side. While a more concerted effort should be put forth towards including people of different ethnicities, a mantra of writing is “write what you know.” I don’t pretend that I could really write a fully developed character of a non-white ethnicity because I am white and mostly lived in white communities.

    Advertiser’s take: The 18-45 upper income bracket is the old-guard’s idea of the golden goose of target markets. The majority of that market is white male (which is slowly changing, thankfully).

    If I pitched a show idea that looked like the neighborhood that I live in now in northwest Pasadena, I doubt I could truly and accurately portray my neighbors, and it would be a tough sell to a network.

    However, your critique is correct (although maybe you should check out, “Outsourced” or “Community” on NBC).

  2. David says:

    When was the last time we saw a Native American on TV? The Lone Ranger? Bonanza?

    I think one reason why diversity is lacking is that too many writers don’t know how to portray it without it feeling forced or playing into stereotypes. Community does fairly well in the diversity area. Then there’s the new “Outsourced” show which takes place in India, so it has a fair amount of brownness to it.

    But aren’t we pretty much better off without it most days anyway?

  3. JR says:

    It’s sad that there isn’t more diversity on tv. The only show I watch regularly is the Amazing Race, which has three AA representing. Youtube has a lot of Asians, but I’m not sure if folks like Timothy DeLaGhetto and the most suscribed to act, nigahiga, are your cup of tea.

  4. profrah says:

    To the Burner. Thanks for your insights. Your insider perspective is very helpful. I figured that those might be the reasons. But it’s interesting for all its claim towards being progressive, Hollywood still hasn’t recognized the importance of diversity.

    Also, I think Community is a really funny show — also with good range of characters. Outsourced, on the other hand, is awful. Interesting take on Outsourced can be found here: http://www.tv.com/an-american-abroad-two-shows-different-results/story/24200.html?tag=hotspot;gumball;1

  5. profrah says:

    David, Agreed. I should have mentioned it. The Native American community has ZERO representation on network TV. I can’t even think of a caricatured Native American on TV, much less a healthy, balanced character. I suppose you could argue that Hawaii Five-O shows a few native Polynesians (in the background).

    I’m assuming you’re talking about being better off without TV and not better off without diversity? 🙂

  6. Our expectations are too high. To believe that hollywood/tv will get it right. I would like to see something more diverse. Growing up in Cali I enjoyed a wonderful life experience with many cultures, red, yellow, black, or white they are all precious in His sight, but not for some of the rest of us.


  7. Kuangkai says:

    I would have to agree with David–I can hardly think of one benefit associated with TV. I used to think it may be a good way to see where people were at or give me additional ways of ‘relating’ to people or a springboard to conversation, but even those reasons are inadequate in terms of overall time spent. To meet people, friends and family where they’re at does not take TV–but merely our caring and availability to reach out with the perspective of love and truth.

  8. JP Paulus says:

    Prof Rah…you might want to clarify that it’s Grace Park (Athena of nu Battlestar Galactica) who’s the sex object. Daniel Dae Kim is Jin in Lost, and the “questionable guy trying to redeem himself.” i only watched the pilot, so i don’t know if he will develop into the “anti-hero”/ bad-a that a team usually needs. But i agree it’s bogus that he’s relegated to #3 position.

    i think part of the problem is that there is no push for a few key actors to break through and be the “hot” actor. And what i mean is…filling a demand that isn’t being met, and showing range, which leads to opportunities. (perhaps how Steve Buscemi has been able to break out of weird/creepy guy into a serious crime boss on the new HBO series).

    If there was some legit support surrounding some actors, maybe they can generate some buzz.

    Also, same withing with productions…find a show, maybe a unique show, and that can create the buzz to breakthrough.

    • profrah says:

      A lot of people aren’t getting my humor on this post and the other post. I may need to lay off the humor for awhile? 🙂

      • JP Paulus says:

        Ah…i see…you just need to be reminded that not all Asians look alike 😉

        On atangent…wonder what you think of The Walking Dead? .Even though the top 3 (who are the only ones shown with photos in the credits), they have a diverse cast, with Glenn portrayed as a Korean -American, ex-pizza delivery guy with a gift for strategic planning. Steve Yeun does a greta job of showing someone with obvious fear yet courage in the midst of a crazy situation. He’s definitely one of my favorite characters.

  9. elderj says:

    Speaking of diversity, I would like to see a television show that is set in the south that isn’t about racism. I think that the lack of diversity on network television is due to the fact that only a certain kind of people are deemed acceptable. Otherwise they are stereotypes. Religious people are only backwards, bigoted, one-dimensional caricatures. Rural people don’t exist at all, and neither do poor people (unless of course they are involved in some sort of crime drama show). No one is fat.

    The funny thing about TV is that early television showed a lot more economic and even regional diversity than in more recent days. Think of The Honeymooners (a bus driver and his sewer worker best friend with their wives living in two room cold water flats in NY), or the Andy Griffith Show (a small town Southern sheriff as a single parent with his live-in aunt).

  10. Judy says:

    I enjoyed the show Numb3ers, but it was canceled. It seemed to have a reasonable amount of diversity and usually an intelligent plot.

    I was wondering if ‘Outsourced’ was going to be mentioned. I watched some of it and thought it was horrible. It was even worse than I imagined it could be. It just seems so blatantly racist that I didn’t think it could be aired. I guess I was wrong.

    I know we’re talking about racial diversity, but it seems so bad that it’s only a few kinds of white people that are even portrayed on TV. Hip rich Californians or crime investigators.

    Sorry for rambling, but it seems some ‘reality’ shows do have some diversity, but not the typical written shows. The only one I watch is The Biggest Loser, and it is clear that they cast a variety of ethnic groups every season.

  11. Well.. though there aren’s that many asians, blacks, latinos etc.. portrayed on tv.. certainly.. the internet community.. such as Youtube has diversity of “actors” and “actresses” in short clips of “movies” and “shows” that people enjoy watching.. Im in my mid 20s.. and as far as I know, people in my age range and younger, I believe, have stopped watching tv for a long time because you can just watch the highlights and important bits of clips on youtube without having to watch the whole show. People in my generations definitely don’t have enough patience to watch the whole show on tv… or maybe its just me… but just throwing my 10 cents here…though the national tv certainly don’t have enough diversity.. the underdog internet “tv” community has diversity all over.. my fave is nigahiga and kevjumba!

  12. Plan says:

    The reason Hollywood casts white leads is because producers think it’s risky to cast minorities in lead roles, for fear that the audience won’t identify with them.

    That’s wrong. Anyone who has watched Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle did not sit through the movie thinking, “Oh, here’s an Asian guy and an Indian guy.” They just laughed their asses off, because it was a funny, cleverly-written movie.

    Likewise, when we watch Battlestar Galactica, we’re not thinking, “How diverse! The lead actor is Mexican-American!” We’re thinking, “Bill Adama is a bad-ass, and I hope he can get the FTLs spooled up and jump the fleet before the Cylons get there!”

    In other words, movie and TV execs regularly insult our intelligence. But can we blame them? Millions of people gorge themselves on Jersey Shore and American Idol episodes weekly, but The Wire ran for five magnificent seasons as the greatest, most diverse, most profound show on television, and NO ONE WATCHED IT. The critics ignored it, the awards committees ignored it…everyone was too busy watching reality TV.

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