LOS ANGELES – Civil-rights groups seeking greater ethnic diversity in the TV industry said Thursday the major broadcast networks are making improvements but it's time for greater progress — and pressure.
"I don't want to wait 10 years until we're close on television to the 15 percent of the population we are in the U.S.," said Alex Nogales, an official with the National Latino Media Council.
The council has been working together with groups including the Asian Pacific American Media Coalition and American Indians in Film & TV since 1999 to increase minority hiring and representation in the broadcast TV industry.
Karen K. Narasaki, chair of the Asian Pacific American coalition, said there has been "marginal progress" as all four networks increased the number of starring roles for Asian-American actors in series. In one case, however, that meant going from one role to two.
"We're still far from where we need to be," she said, with far too many all-white shows or shows that by dint of their setting should have Asian-American characters but don't.
There's been a worrying drop in Asian-American writers and producers, Narasaki, also president of the Asian American Justice Center, said in a phone interview following a news conference.
Increasing their ranks is crucial to creating more minority characters, she said. She noted the cast diversity on ABC's "Grey's Anatomy," created and produced by a black woman, Shonda Rhimes.
Nogales lauded ABC, a network he said "finally got it" and has Hispanic characters in its most popular shows, including "Desperate Housewives" and freshman hit "Ugly Betty." As a result, he said, the network is winning over more Hispanic viewers.
In annual "report cards," ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox are graded in areas including their hiring of minority actors, writers and directors, development of programs with ethnic diversity and overall commitment to diversity issues.
This year, for shows airing from fall 2005 to fall 2006, the National Latino Media Coalition gave ABC the highest overall grade, A-minus, followed by a B-plus for CBS and a B each for NBC and Fox.
The Asian Pacific American Media Coalition gave NBC, ABC and Fox a C-plus each, while CBS earned a C.
In the coalition's first report card, in 2000, the networks received mostly Ds.
There was yet again a sharp slap from Americans Indians in film & TV: The virtual absence of any American Indians on screen or in the industry earned a flurry of Fs and Ds, with just a handful of higher grades.
In separate statements Thursday, ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox reiterated their commitments to diversity and pledged continued efforts.
ABC is "pleased to be recognized as a leader in diversity," said Robert Mendez, senior vice president for diversity at the Disney-ABC Television Group. "Our mission is to make our programming and environment reflective of the rich diversity of the world in which we live."
Nogales, also president of the National Hispanic Media Coalition, said he planned to study a recent University of California, Los Angeles, study that said lawsuits may be warranted when the casting process for films takes into account race and sex.
"I think it's completely applicable (to television), and if it is we'll use it," he said in a phone interview.
Nogales said he considers the networks "partners" in the diversification effort but has no qualms about pushing hard for results.
"Sometimes you have to kick your partners" in the behind, he said.