More Diversity for a Better Bottom Line?

According to a UCLA study released last month, television programs with more diversity tended to get higher ratings than those with more homogeneous casts and writers. Diversity is apparently good business.

Among some of the findings in the study was that shows in which minorities made up 31 to 40 percent of the cast members tended to do better with viewers, and shows with a higher percentage of minority writers benefited from increased ratings as well. Ultimately what does this mean? In essence I think studies like this show not only how we as a society are becoming more diverse, but that people want to see characters who look like them and share similar experiences as themselves. Considering the lack of diversity in television, it would behoove the producers and network honchos who greenlight these shows to really take a look at the members of their casts and the talent writing for these shows. You can check out the article here.

Actors Discuss Legacy of Roots

With the film “12 Years A Slave” debuting this week, I figured it was a good time to revisit a panel discussion I shot earlier this year revolving around one of the most prominent depictions of slavery in media.

From left to right: Levar Burton, Louis Gosset Jr., Leslie Uggams, and Ben Vereeen

The panel featured actors who played pivotal roles in the TV mini-series “Roots” that premiered in 1977 and was shown on BET last winter. “Roots” was really the first program to explore the challenges, horrors, and triumphs within the realm of American slavery. It was an eye opening experience for millions of people and really helped shed a light on America’s ‘original sin.’ Actors Lou Gosset Jr., Ben Vereen, Leslie Uggams and Levar Burton, spoke on the significance of “Roots,” their roles in it, and how “Roots” continues to educate more than 30 years later.

The panel was a part of a larger series called ‘Changing the Picture’ at the Museum of the Moving Image this past February, which highlighted the works of people of color in the film and television industry.

Looking Back at K-Ville 6 Years Later

When “Sleepy Hollow” premiered three weeks ago, it was the highest rated debut on Fox in six years. The last show to debut that well on Fox? “K-Ville.”

“K-Ville” was one of my favorite TV shows of the last decade. It premiered in September 2007 and revolved around the duties of NOPD officers Marlon Boulet (Anthony Anderson) and his partner Trevor Cobb (Cole Hauser). The two men are an unlikely pairing in post Katrina New Orleans, as they and the city are fighting to regain their footing.

At first glance, “K-Ville” could be mistaken for the classic buddy-cop cliche. A black guy and white guy team up to fight crime, kick ass and take names. I never viewed K-Ville in that light however. Anthony Anderson’s character, Boulet, is a native New Orleanian who’s still dealing with ghosts of Katrina some two years later. In the pilot episode we watch as he tries to assist people in the immediate aftermath of Katrina only to watch his partner go AWOL and drive off in a police cruiser. Later, Boulet’s partner returns to the unit and Boulet is forced to reconcile with the man who once deserted him.

Cobb might be the last person you would expect to be serving in law enforcement. Through flashbacks we see Cobb in an orange jumpsuit trying to calm his cellmate as the water steadily rises throughout the prison. Yes, Cobb was serving a bid and had four months left at the time of the storm. Cobb ultimately has to make a drastic decision to survive and he ends up starting over after his arrest records are literally washed away due to the storm.

Within the prism of these two characters (and the police force) we get to see New Orleans trying to pick itself up and bring things back to normal. Whether it’s people abandoning their homes, past acquaintances coming back into the fold, or a police force trying to overcome its tarnished image, all are in play in “K-Ville.”

Perhaps the reason I’m so fond of “K-Ville” is because of my own experience with New Orleans. In March of 2006 I was fortunate enough to take part in the first restoration effort following Hurricane Katrina. It was a bunch of college students from all over the South who were in New Orleans over our spring break to lend a helping hand. During my week there we saw plenty of abandoned homes, demolished structures and debris still scattered about as if the hurricane had only occurred days and not months before.

In the midst of all this, I’ll never forget the resolve of the people I met. There was a man by the name of Lionel who I had spoke with who witnessed his entire house literally crumble due to a wave of water. Six months later all that was left was a rotting structure filled with debris and sewage. Lionel had moved his family to Houston in the interim and was determined to rebuild. I’m not sure whats become of him in the seven years since, but I know the people in the Lower 9th Ward, which took the hardest hit, weren’t going to give up on the only place they knew without a fight. “K-Ville” I felt captured this resolve and rebuild spirit through Boulet, who we see unwilling to leave his neighborhood for greener pastures like Atlanta.

“K-Ville,” like any series, isn’t perfect and I felt the last couple of episodes weren’t as strong as the first few, but I still enjoyed it nonetheless. It’s unfortunate that it was only on for one season as I thought there was real potential with the show to grow and evolve just as New Orleans was evolving post Katrina. Anthony Anderson tweeted me some weeks ago and said the writers strike at the time hurt the show. That’s unfortunate because “K-Ville” had an authenticity about it that made you believe that you weren’t just watching a cop show, but looking into the lives of characters who were trying to adjust to a changing city.    

After A 20 Year Hiatus Arsenio Hall is Back

Arsenio Hall made his triumphant return back to late night television this month and the initial results have been promising.

In its first full week on the air, “The Arsenio Hall Show” won the coveted 18-49 TV demographic, which is certainly a good sign. Arsenio has had on a number of well known entertainers and musical guests ranging the gamut from Chris Tucker, to Magic Johnson, to Angela Basset and Kendrick Lamar. I only got see the first show, but I enjoyed it.
I will say this however. If anyone from “The Arsenio Hall Show” happens to be reading this (and just in case you are, I’d love to come visit Los Angeles) it’s not a good look to have ads literally in the middle of a show. As a matter of fact, while ads are common on internet streams and on podcasts (Hello, ESPN) I have never seen ads in the middle of a live show. It just seems jarring, which is why I took a photo of it. Also, it just had to be McDonalds? Maybe it’s just my television that saw this, or perhaps others saw it as well, but please, no more ads in the middle of interviews. 

MSNBC Makes Serious Gains Among Black Audiences

I remember a few years ago watching a news program with a college buddy of mine who was from Ethiopia. After a few moments, he remarked: “Warin, not to be offensive, but all of the news anchors I ever see on these programs are all white. Why is that?” Interesting question, indeed.

Now a few years later, it seems networks such as MSNBC are beginning to turn the tide. MSNBC just recently indicated that it has seen a 60% growth in its black audience viewership within the last year, making it the number one channel in that demographic. Rival CNN saw over a 20% increase in its black viewers. Why is this significant you may ask?

                                                  MSNBC anchor Tamron Hall

Simply put, MSNBC has arguably the most diverse set of anchors of any cable news network today. There’s the Rev. Al Sharpton, Tamron Hall, Toure’, and Melissa Harris-Perry. Not to mention frequent guests like Goldie Taylor and notable scholar, Micheal Eric Dyson. Not only do these hosts bring diversity, they also being a different perspective to the national discussion. And considering the United States is becoming more diverse with each passing year, MSNBC is quickly reaping the benefits of a more reflective newscast.

MSNBC president, Phil Griffin, talks more about the gains here.