LOS ANGELES, Nov. 18 (UPI) -- The National Asian Pacific American Media Coalition, a Washington-based civil-rights organization, has released its annual report card for 2004, grading the four major networks on their diversity both in front of and behind the camera.
The report found that there has been a "marginal improvement" in the number and quality of professional opportunities for Asian Pacific Americans at ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC. However, it also concluded that there were "a number of significant missed opportunities" for the networks to employ more Asian Pacific Americans during the past year.
Karen Narasaki, chairwoman of the APA Media Coalition and president and executive director of NAPALC, told United Press International that she and her NAPALC colleagues meet regularly with network executives to work on increasing diversity, and the networks routinely stage showcases at which Asian Pacific American performers -- which NAPALC refers to as APAs -- can be seen by network brass.
"The (showcase) directors are usually Asian as well," she said, "so it gives them an opportunity to network. Hollywood, more than any other industry, I've ever seen, is really about who you know, and the challenge is, of course, minorities usually haven't been in that loop."
Narasaki said the central issue of diversity on TV is not morality or political correctness, but business.
"The demography is changing," she said, "and the shows that are finding success are the shows that have more diversity because they're more real."
Narasaki said a turning point came for ABC when it put "My Wife and Kids" and "George Lopez" in prime time. "My Wife and Kids" is about a black family, and "Lopez" is about a Latino family.
"'Lopez' was one of the few shows that survived that season," said Narasaki. "(ABC's) 'a-ha moment' was, 'Gee, we could actually make money.'"
The report said that although progress had been made in the past year in expanding opportunities for APAs on screen, there is considerable room for more expansion.
"There are still no APAs in starring roles, and APAs remain virtually absent from comedy series, even as sidekicks," said Narasaki.
The report card evaluates steps the networks have taken to provide opportunities for Asian Pacific American actors to work in prime time on scripted and reality shows. It also measures hiring of Asian Pacific American writers, producers, directors and executives, as well as the degree to which networks extended program development and procurement deals to Asian Pacific Americans.
The networks are also graded on the basic commitments they have made to diversity that may not have had sufficient time to produce results.
"Overall, there has been a marginal improvement in the number and quality of opportunities throughout the networks," said the report. "Because there were significant missed opportunities, the overall performance of the networks this past year was mixed."
ABC and CBS improved their grades from NAPALC's 2003 report card, while Fox and NBC got lower grades this time around.
ABC went from a C-minus to a C; CBS went from a D-plus to a C-minus. FOX went from a B-minus to a C-plus; NBC went from a B-minus to C-plus.
According to the report, ABC's grade benefited because the network has made an effort to increase diversity throughout its organization.
"There has been some improvement in almost every category," said the report. "ABC's new hit show 'Lost' has a diverse cast, including three APA actors, and is an example of thoughtful writing and casting."
The NAPALC report said Fox was "once the leader in innovation" but has since declined.
"Fox has made progress in identifying talented APA writers," the report said, "but there are too many missed opportunities in casting shows like 'North Shore' and 'The O.C.' -- both set in locales with significant APA populations."
The report called reality programming a bright spot for Fox, largely because of the diverse pool of contestants for shows like "American Idol."
Although the NAPALC report credited NBC for having a strong commitment to diversity, it criticized the network for what it called missed opportunities.
"This year, NBC sought to break down the racial segregation in situation comedies and to cast APAs in leading roles," said the report.
NBC bought "Never Mind Nirvana," a family-based comedy centered on and written by a South Asian American, said NAPALC. But the show has not yet made it to air. The network also got credit for planning to air "The Men's Room," another comedy with actor John Cho in a leading role. Narasaki said the show is planned as a midseason replacement.
"However, NBC had a major missed opportunity with 'Hawaii,' a cop show where neither of the two leads were Asian or Native Hawaiian -- making it regressive even compared to past shows like 'Hawaii Five-O,'" said the report.
"Hawaii" was cancelled after airing eight episodes.
The report card gave CBS credit for its initiative aimed at identifying minority writers but said the network "continues to struggle" with getting APAs in front of the camera. It pointed out that Archie Kao, who played Archie Johnson on "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," was the only APA in the CBS prime-time lineup -- and his was just a recurring role.
"For most of 2004, CBS did not have an APA playing a regular character on any of its scripted shows," said the report.
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