UCLA Study Examines Minority Representation In Network TelevisionLOS ANGELES
Despite calls for more diversity on prime-time network television, African Americans continue to be overrepresented and concentrated in situation comedies while other ethnic groups remained underrepresented, according to a new UCLA study.
African Americans and Anglo Americans represented 92 percent of all prime-time characters in the study, yet they comprise 82 percent of the nation’s population. In contrast, Latinos were the most underrepresented group in prime-time television. They accounted for 2 percent of all characters, although their national population is 12.5 percent. Asian Americans comprised about 3 percent of all characters, and American Indians were invisible.
“Much of the promise of change on behalf of the networks has been lip service to appease people,” says Dr. Darnell Hunt, the study’s author and director of the UCLA Center for African American Studies. “There’s been all this anticipation of change and there has been very little. Most of the networks have thrown out a few symbolic gestures and left most of the programming practices intact.”
The research, titled “Prime Time in Black and White: Making Sense of the 2001 Fall Season,” was based on a content analysis of 224 episodes of 85 fictional series that aired on ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, UPN and the WB in October and November 2001. It is the inaugural report of a five-year study that will track the on-screen presence of Black Americans in prime-time network television and issues pertaining to behind-the-scenes control. Hunt also was the author of a Screen Actors Guild study in 2000 with similar findings.
Despite the large number of African Americans on television, they continue to be “ghettoized on the least-watched network (UPN), in situation comedies, and on Monday nights,” Hunt says. “With a few notable exceptions, the Black characters appearing on other nights, other networks, and in dramas were much less prominent.”
Black characters represented 28 percent of the characters on UPN compared to about 12 percent on other networks. Thirty-seven percent of series regulars on UPN were African American. Fifty-two percent of all African American characters who appeared on the screen for more than 10 minutes per hour of programming were on UPN.
CBS was the network with the second-largest percentage of all African American characters, with 17 percent.
In addition, 39 percent of all Black characters appeared in sitcoms, compared to 31 percent for Whites, 23 percent for Latinos and 21 percent for Asians. However, about 61 percent of African American characters appeared in dramas in 2001, compared with about 50 percent in the 2000 report.
Despite the overrepresentation of Blacks in prime-time network television, relatively few images were provided of life inside the African American home.
The overrepresentation of Whites in positions of power within the television networks continues to hamstring efforts to diversify it, Hunt said. “The underlying fact is that White control of prime time continues to make it difficult to diversify it,” Hunt says. “Recent gestures toward change have left the underlying structures untouched.”
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