I'm angry enough at the television networks to click off my set for good.
First, the executives at ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox had the nerve to introduce an entire fall lineup of new comedies and dramas, 26 of them, that didn't feature a single African American star. Only a few African Americans, Hispanics and Asians were even cast in secondary roles.
Now, after threats of a lawsuit by the NAACP and a boycott by Hispanic groups, the networks are backtracking double-time to add minorities to some of those shows.
CBS deserves credit for offering three of the only four shows with African Americans or other minorities in lead roles throughout last season. The network also separated itself from the pack with plans to roll out a new dramatic series that will feature mostly African American characters whose lives center on an inner-city hospital.
The show, scheduled as a mid-season replacement to be aired in January, will be one of the few television dramas ever to showcase a predominantly African American cast.
At least the other networks had the good business sense to pay attention to the criticism and attempt to make some adjustments. But I'm sick and tired of the reality that to most of them, African Americans and other people of color continue to be just an afterthought.
How else can the networks explain the initial oversight?
They're certainly aware of research that has shown consistently that African Americans tend to watch more television than anybody else. News stories published in recent months quote figures from TN Media, an advertising agency, showing that black viewers watch about 40 percent more television during the day and 9 percent more from 8 to 11 p.m.
But what incentive do the networks have to create more diverse shows when African Americans keep on watching anyhow?
I can't help feeling that the networks think of their minority viewers as loyal old dogs: Throw us a bone every now and then, and we'll stay put.
That's just a tad bit better than the upscale retailers, who haven't even bothered throwing bones to Prince George's County. They, too, know that no matter how they ignore us, the county's majority-black population will just keep trotting to Waldorf, Annapolis and Tysons Corner to lap up the goodies left there.
Lately though, the bones from the networks are getting even more scarce.
The percentage of black characters on entertainment programs has dropped from 18 percent in the 1993-94 season to 10 percent last season, according to a report in this newspaper last month. Although the percentage of Hispanic characters on the air increased to 3.8 percent last season, it's still far below their 11 percent share of the population.
Okay, I can just hear some of you now, saying, "There they go whining again. . . . "
But is it really so unreasonable for people of color to expect to turn on the television and find characters whose lives and cultures accurately reflect their own, even in a sitcom?
I'm not proud that African Americans watch so much television. If African American parents in Prince George's spent more time with their children in the library instead of in front of the television, that probably would do more to raise the school system's dismal academic performance than hiring a new superintendent or clearing out top administrators.
But that shouldn't let network executives off the hook. Television has a tremendous impact on our modern culture. It influences the way people of different races view each other, as well as how all of us view ourselves.
Thus, we should demand the kind of programming we want to see.
Here's an idea: We should invite the network executives to spend just a day in Prince George's County; I'll bet they could find fodder for a few new sitcoms and dramas. And I'm not referring to one that has anything remotely to do with police and crime. There are enough of those already.
How about a drama similar to the much-ballyhooed NBC show "Providence"? But this one would feature a smart, handsome, young African American man--let's make him a lawyer--who returns home after college to find the once-rural county where he grew up a much different place. He moves to an upper-middle-class neighborhood in the county--perhaps Mitchellville--and his life unfolds.
Imagine. . . .
It could be much more satisfying than the usual bones.
To comment or suggest a story idea, feel free to write me at 14402 Old Mill Rd., Suite 201, Upper Marlboro, Md. 20772; send me an e-mail at frazierL@washpost.com; or call me at 301-952-2083.