NBC to Hire More Minorities on TV Shows



January 6, 2000, B13


NEW YORK-NBC, responding to criticism about lack of diversity, said it will mandate the hiring of minority writers by producers in some shows and take other unprecedented initiatives that it hopes will put more minorities in front of and behind the camera.

The General Electric Co. unit and the other television networks have been targets of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People for the perceived lack of diversity in the entertainment industry.

Last summer, NAACP President and Chief Executive Kweisi Mfume said the fall TV schedules were a "virtual whitewash" and threatened a boycott of at least one network if changes were not made.

Walt Disney Co.'s ABC and News Corp.'s Fox are expected shortly to detail similar plans aimed at improving diversity.

In a move that could meet resistance by the creative community, NBC said it will tell its entertainment producers that it wants diverse writing and directing staffs on all of its shows and will force the issue. NBC said it will fund the money for an additional minority writer on each of the network's second-year shows to achieve that goal.

For example, NBC's freshman comedy "Stark Raving Mad" currently has no minority writers, but it will be mandated to by the network next season. NBC also said it won't "engage in any practice of ghettoizing minority-themed shows." That practice occurs when a network schedules all of its prominently minority-cast shows on one night as Time Warner Inc.'s WB network currently does with its Friday night lineup and other networks used to in recent seasons.

Some entertainment-industry executives said there was a question as to whether requiring shows to hire minorities would be legal in California, where most shows are produced and affirmative-action laws have been relaxed. But NBC said that question had been anticipated. "We're fully aware of employment laws, and we plan to comply with those laws and achieve our diversity goals at the same time," an NBC spokeswoman said.

From a business standpoint, NBC said it will spend more on promoting itself on minority-owned media and will set a goal to spend $10 million on products or services from minority vendors. The network will also provide minority fellowships; create a training program and build relationships with city universities to bring more diversity to its internship programs. Also, employee compensation will be based in part on achieving diversity goals.

The NAACP's Mr. Mfume praised NBC's plans, saying the network "becomes the model to move us into this century with a real sense of inclusion." The other networks, he added, should follow NBC's lead with similar plans. His organization, he stressed, is not interested in quotas.

As for enforcing NBC's efforts, the NAACP's Mr. Mfume said the organization is spending $500,000 to create a Hollywood bureau that will work closely with the networks and various writer and director guilds to monitor this and other agreements it may reach.

ABC has been working on a letter of understanding with the NAACP and has a similar agreement awaiting approval by the NAACP. It calls for many of the same things NBC's does, including improving hiring, casting and use of minority-owned media. Fox has also met with the NAACP and a spokesman stated it expects to have a "mutually beneficial" agreement.

In November, CBS Television President Leslie Moonves was the only network president to appear at hearings the NAACP held in Los Angeles, and he later sent the organization a letter detailing its plans on improving diversity. The company yesterday repeated its pledge to work closely with the NAACP, but the company declined to say whether it will also issue its own formal document to the NAACP.

While the NAACP appeared to be advancing its case with the four major broadcast networks, one other advocacy group expressed anger that the civil-rights group didn't ask other minority groups to join it at yesterday's announcement with NBC. All the groups had been working together with the networks with Mr. Mfume taking the lead. However the announcement appeared to be solely about the NAACP and the networks.

"We were dismayed Mr. Mfume was the lone player in this," said former Rep. Esteban Torres, who is now spokesperson for the National Latino Media Council. He also complained that agreement with NBC doesn't go far enough. "We had hoped NBC and the other networks would create a vice president of diversity that would report directly to the CEO," he said. Mr. Torres applauded Mr. Mfume's efforts but added "he did it without us and that doesn't play well. "

An NAACP spokesman said Mr. Mfume "regrets any misunderstanding" that may have occurred with Mr. Torres about the timing of Wednesday's announcement.

As for Mr. Torres's criticism of the plan, an NBC spokeswoman said, "We are extremely proud of the efforts we outlined today."