“Undercovers,” a glossy drama about African American married caterers who moonlighted as spies, was the centerpiece of NBC’s aggressive campaign touting its commitment to boosting diversity.
“NBC trumpeted “Undercovers” as a response to opponents of the network’s merger with cable giant Comcast who contended NBC had a historically poor record when it came to placing African Americans in front of and behind the camera,” reports today’s edition of The Los Angeles Times.
The show flopped.
NBCUniversal was steadfast in its reassurances that it was committed to increasing diversity in all facets of its business. Paula Madison, the company’s diversity chief and one of the people who helped publicize those reassurances in February, has since retired from the company. Since then some of NBCUniversal’s units have come under fire as advocates claim that the company is not honoring promises that helped pave the way for the merger’s approval.
In recent weeks the company’s cable news property, MSNBC, has had to fight back criticism of its decision to give a coveted time slot and news show to the Rev. Al Sharpton. The barbs did not come from cranky conservatives who routinely target Sharpton and the so-called mainstream media, but from black journalists who complained that an experienced journalist of color should instead have been considered for such an opportunity. Now Latino journalism groups allege that the newsroom at KNBC Channel 4, NBCUniversal’s Los Angeles station, is discriminating against Latino anchors. And NBC’s upcoming fall schedule shows a marked reversal from last season, when the merger was still pending and the network developed “Undercovers” as well as other shows with minorities in major roles, such as “Outlaw,” “The Event” and “Outsourced.” Those series were all casualties of low ratings, and the new pilots for the upcoming season show few people of color in leading roles, according to the LA Times article.
The newspaper reports that executives at NBCUniversal are scrambling to address the concerns. “Craig Robinson, KNBC’s president and general manager, who was hired as NBCUniversal chief of diversity a few weeks ago, said he had long been aggressive in hiring minorities, particularly Latinos, in the newsroom. And NBC Entertainment Chairman Robert Greenblatt recently maintained the network was ‘embedded in diversity’ as it moves into the new season,” the article states.
Who knows how long Sharpton’s new show, ‘Politics Nation,’ will last on MSNBC, but NBCUniversal is not the only media company/television network struggling with the issue of diversity, or the lack thereof. New shows on rival alphabet networks feature few people of color in prominent roles. CBS has only one person of color in its new fall lineup, Oscar nominee Taraji P. Henson (“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”), playing a supporting role on “Person of Interest.” Fox and ABC fare slightly better: Shelley Conn stars in Fox’s “Terra Nova” while ABC’s revamp of “Charlie’s Angels” stars Annie Ilonzeh, an African American actress, as one of the Angels, while their protector Bosley is played by Ramon Rodriguez.