Of the 36 new prime-time shows this season, a record 17 feature regular black characters. But this diversifying trend is notably weak at CBS, the only network with not even one show primarily about blacks. CBS entertainment president Jeff Sagansky says the omission is unintentional. ”Basically, you put on the best (pilots) you have,” he says. ”Obviously, there are important minority roles in some of our shows, but I still think we can do a better job.”
NBC leads the networks in showcasing black talent, with new programs like Here and Now and Out All Night. But NBC can’t brag too loudly: Industry critics note that roles for blacks are often stereotypical sitcom parts, like that of jive-talking Vidal (Duane Martin of Out All Night). In fact, only two black nuclear families exist on prime time, which also has a dearth of characters from other minority backgrounds.
Sagansky says CBS, for one, is ”pursuing (more minority characters) strongly,” with plans for 704 Hauser St., featuring a black family, and a series starring comic George Wallace (A Rage in Harlem). On CBS’ Love & War, producers coping with the death last month of supporting actor John Hancock intend to replace him with another black actor.