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Success of diversity on TV gets network chiefs' notice

Success of diversity on TV gets network chiefs' notice

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LOS ANGELES — If TV pilots are any indication, the four major networks are planning fall lineups that could make primetime television more diverse than ever.

NBC has "The Curse of the Fuentes Women," a drama with a magical-realism bent about a Latino family, and "Love Is a Four Letter Word," a cross-cultural comedy from Korean American writer Diana Son.

ABC is remaking the film comedy "Uncle Buck" with black comic and rapper Mike Epps in the title role made famous by the late John Candy. CBS is rebooting "Rush Hour" with Justin Hires, a black actor and stand-up comic whom network executives discovered at a diversity showcase in 2011.

Several factors are driving the trend, including the unexpected success this season of attention-grabbing programs such as Fox's hip-hop soap, "Empire," and ABC's "Fresh Off the Boat" and "Black-ish."

Then, too, the minority population is growing at a time when network viewership is declining. Targeting more shows to minority groups is seen by the networks as a way to build their audiences while also distinguishing them from cable's elite dramas, which are overwhelmingly white.

"The networks aren't exactly rolling in viewers, and I think part of that is because maybe the programming hasn't been as diverse as it could have been," said Jennifer Salke, entertainment president of NBC. "It's good business."

To help connect with a broad audience — the U.S. population is almost one-quarter nonwhite, according to the Census Bureau — Salke said her network is seeking programs that reflect "what the world actually looks like."

The development trend parallels what viewers have been seeing for the past few years on TV screens. Broadcast series are gradually getting less white — at least in front of the camera.

Minority actors had 6.5 percent of the lead roles in broadcast TV series during the 2012-13 season, up from 5.1 percent the previous season, according to a 2015 report on diversity in TV and film researched by the Bunche Center at UCLA. The report cited the effect of series such as "Scandal" and "The Mindy Project," both of which have found devoted audiences and feature nonwhite women in the lead roles.

"Television took a while to catch up to the idea that the population had changed," said Patrick Moran, who runs the studio division for ABC. That's the network home of black show runner Shonda Rhimes, whose hits such as "Grey's Anatomy" and "Scandal" have changed the face of prime time. "Television was kind of lagging behind."

WHAT THEY'RE WATCHING

Top five television series by ethnic audiences, network showing the program, and audience (in millions):

WHITE HOUSEHOLDS

1. "The Big Bang Theory" (CBS), 17.2

2. "NCIS" (CBS), 16.6

3. "NBC Sunday Night Football" (NBC), 15.9

4. "NCIS: New Orleans" (CBS), 15.8

5. "CBS Thursday Night Football" (CBS), 12.8

LATINO HOUSEHOLDS

1. "NBC Sunday Night Football" (NBC), 1.9

2. "Empire" (Fox), 1.7

3. "CBS Thursday Night Football" (CBS), 1.4

4. "The Voice" (NBC), 1.1

5. "The Big Bang Theory" (CBS), 1

BLACK HOUSEHOLDS

1. "Empire" (Fox), 11

2. "Scandal" (ABC), 4.9

3. "How to Get Away With Murder" (ABC), 3.7

4. "NBC Sunday Night Football" (NBC), 3.2

5. "CBS Thursday Night Football" (CBS), 2.8

ASIAN-AMERICAN HOUSEHOLDS

1."Fresh Off the Boat" (ABC), .75

2. "NBC Sunday Night Football" (NBC), .69

3. "The Big Bang Theory" (CBS), .64

4. "Dancing With the Stars" (ABC), .60

5. "The Voice" (NBC), .56

Source: Nielsen. Data cover 2014-15 TV season through April 12.

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