A "Family Guy" spinoff show featuring the character of Cleveland Brown is mixing up its voice cast, ethnically speaking.
Mike Henry, who is white, will continue to provide the voice for Cleveland on Fox's new animated series. Joining Henry in the cast will be black actors Sanaa Lathan, Nia Long and Kevin Michael Richardson, the network announced Monday.
Fox programming chief Kevin Reilly said the casting wasn't provoked by ribbing the network has taken for a black role voiced by a white actor.
"Mike's been doing that character for a long time, so we knew going in that was a fix, we're going to have a white guy," he said at a Television Critics Association meeting, responding to a reporter's question.
"But clearly, the idea was just to make an ethnically diverse show in front of and behind the camera, which we are," and to create a largely African-American cast for the Brown family, Reilly said.
Lathan will play Cleveland's wife, Donna, while Long will voice the character of rebellious stepdaughter Roberta. In a colorblind casting move, Richardson will play the part of Lester, described as a "redneck."
"Cleveland" follows the Browns as they move to Cleveland's Virginia hometown and encounter neighbors including Lester, a family of bears and a British family enamored with the Victorian era, Fox said.
The show is set for a 2009 debut.
Reilly was asked about a general lack of ethnic diversity across the broadcast landscape this fall, despite years of lobbying by Hispanic, black and other civil rights group for more minority representation among actors and in producing and decision-making jobs.
"I do think, across the board, Fox's numbers actually are pretty respectable," Reilly said. "But this fall, I think, is just somewhat a product of the strike, not as much new product."
Reilly referred to a 100-day writers' guild strike that disrupted series production last season and the making of fall TV pilots.
A stalement in talks between the Screen Actors Guild and producers have raised fears of another costly work stoppage, but both sides have said they want to avoid a rerun.