Lack of Progress in Minority Casting Is as Maddening as Ever

Last November the New York Times, which never gets a story wrong, ran a piece about a potential "Obama Effect" in television casting.   That is to say, as America had elected a person of color president, fake liberal Hollywood might just catch up and start casting people of color in lead roles in dramatic […]

Last Updated: May 27, 2009 @ 6:16 PM

Last November the New York Times, which never gets a story wrong, ran a piece about a potential "Obama Effect" in television casting.

 

That is to say, as America had elected a person of color president, fake liberal Hollywood might just catch up and start casting people of color in lead roles in dramatic series.

 

The operative words: lead roles, dramatic series. TV’s always been fairly friendly to people of color in lead roles in sitcoms, and has had little problem garnishing its ensemble shows with minorities like delicious sprinkles around the icy white frosting of prime time television.

 

But lead roles, dramatic series…?

 

In the article, NBC honcho Ben Silverman, who never gets anything wrong, called bringing TV in-line with actual reality a moral imperative for his network saying: "I don’t think you can deny the power that Barack Obama brings in magnifying this direction in our world.”

 

So, then, all the networks spent the last week announcing their fall schedules at the upfronts, and I’m left wondering: Where’s my Obama Effect?

 

True to form, the networks have used minorities as flavoring in their ensemble shows — there’s L.L. Cool J in "NCIS: LA." Derek Luke and Aimee Garcia are cast in "Trauma" — but, where’s the Asian "House?" Where’s the Hispanic "Chuck," "Eli Stone" or "The Mentalist?"

"Ugly Betty" pretty much stands alone, and it was lucky to make the return cut.

 

And I do mean lucky. Beyond a lack of new dramas featuring people of color, this fall season is positively regressive. Gone are "Everybody Hates Chris" and "The Unit," staring former "24" President Dennis Haysbert. In their stead we’ve got product such as "The Cleveland Show" featuring a white guy voicing the character of a black man. ‘Cause, you know, minstrel shows are funny when they’re cartoons.

 

Fox’s "Brothers," though appreciated, doesn’t make up for that.

 

And then we’ve got CBS’s "Three Rivers."

 

What? Why does a show about organ transplant surgeons top my offensive list? Well, take a look at this clip from the pilot episode. There is apparently a storyline which revolves around a black basketball player — ’cause that’s what we do — who suffers from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy a la Hank Gathers (which happened waaaay back in 1990, so, clearly the newspaper downturn is affecting the writers’ rooms over at CBS).

 

In the clip a doctor — played convincingly by an actor who was unconvincing last year as a vampire — tells the black ballplayer that he won’t be able to play ball anymore, at which point the brother freaks out ’cause playing ball is all we can do.

 

Later in the clip the convincing actor/doctor tells the brother it’s all gonna be okay: "You’re not going to play in the NBA. You’re going to do something else. Something you might not even be able to imagine in this moment."

 

It’s 2009. A black man is in the White House. But there’s some other thing minorities "might not even be able to imagine" without the help of good, liberal white ex-vampires showing us the way.

 

That is perhaps the single most offensive moment in TV history since D.W. Griffith directed an episode of "Amos and Andy." Which never happened. So it is the single most offensive moment in TV history.

 

Welcome to the fall, Hollywood style.

 

One day, perhaps just after we enjoy the second term of our third Muslim female President, fake liberal Hollywood is going to catch up with the rest of America.

 

Or at least the Republican party and Michael Steele. In the meantime, set your DVRs for "The Cleveland Show."

 

For more perspective please visit That Minority Thing.com

Novelist and screenwriter John Ridley won numerous accolades, including an Academy Award, for his screenplay of "12 Years a Slave." The Emmy-winning writer is in production on “American Crime,” a drama series he created, that will premiere on ABC next spring. He wrote and directed the Jimi Hendrix biopic “All Is by My Side.”