Faced with a potential NAACP boycott over its minority-hiring practices, NBC agreed yesterday to seek out more minority directors, actors and writers for its TV shows.
The agreement doesn't spell out exactly how many African Americans and other minorities the network will hire. It also provides only a general approach to addressing the NAACP's specific complaint from last summer--that minorities are under-represented in network TV series roles.
For NBC, however, the deal will keep the civil rights organization from asking viewers to tune out the network and its advertisers at a time when NBC holds a narrow lead in the Nielsen ratings.
NAACP President Kweisi Mfume, who in July called the paucity of minority faces on 26 new network shows "a virtual whitewash," said in an interview yesterday that the agreement would create "short- and long-term opportunities for men and women of color to impact the content and direction of network television. . . . Out of an air of confrontation has come a real possibility for positive change."
Mfume said his organization is close to striking similar agreements with Fox, CBS and ABC but that those negotiations were still at a "delicate stage."
The four major broadcast networks were embarrassed last summer by widespread publicity over the dearth of minority lead actors in fall series, and the NAACP's threats of a boycott. The networks generally defended their records but scrambled to add African American and other minority faces to their shows.
Under its deal with the NAACP, NBC pledged to seek out an unspecified number of minority directors for next season's series. It also said it would fund an additional writing position on the staff of every second-year show--roughly five to seven positions in total--in order to expand diversity. It also made promises to increase purchases from minority-owned firms, and provide more scholarships and internships to minority candidates.
The agreement, however, is vague on casting decisions. NBC pledged to hold a one-day seminar next month with producers to emphasize its interest in "non-traditional" cast selections.
Mfume says the Hollywood branch of the NAACP will monitor the agreement for compliance, along with the Writers and Directors guilds.
At a news conference in New York, NBC President Bob Wright cited such shows as "ER," "Jesse" and the canceled "Homicide" as those demonstrating NBC's commitment to hiring minority actors. He said, however, that NBC has come to realize "that we can and must do more" to expand opportunities.