CBS-TV Touts Racial Diversity

With minority characters featured in 12 of 19 programs in its fall lineup, CBS has worked harder than other networks to include non-whites, network executive Leslie Moonves said.

"We can, we will do more ... but CBS stands alone as the No. 1 network aware of its responsibility in this area," Moonves said Sunday during the summer meeting of the Television Critics Association.

The four major networks, including CBS, have come under fire from minority groups for fielding a nearly all-white lineup of new fall shows. CBS executives will meet next month with the NAACP to discuss the issue, said Moonves, president and chief executive officer of CBS Television.

CBS already is the home of Bill Cosby (Cosby), Cheech Marin (Nash Bridges), Della Reese (Touched by an Angel) and others.

CBS boasted about two new shows: the fall series Now and Again, featuring black actor Dennis Haysbert as a scientist, and City of Angels, a midseason hospital drama starring Vivica A. Fox and Blair Underwood, both black.

City of Angels is from veteran producer Steven Bochco (Hill Street Blues, L.A. Law, NYPD Blue) who said a major reason for doing it was to use the many black actors, writers and directors ignored by the industry.

"There's this extraordinary talent pool underutilized in our business, both in New York and Los Angeles," he said.

Michael Warren, who played police Officer Bobby Hill in Hill Street Blues and will star in City of Angels, lamented television's lack of progress since a two-decade-old study on the lack of racial inclusiveness.

"If you're asking the same question that was asked 22 years ago, something needs to be done," he said.

Paris Barclay, the black co-creator and co-executive producer of City of Angels, blamed the dearth of minorities on TV producers living in upscale white enclaves such as Malibu, Brentwood and Bel-Air. They don't know blacks and feel uncomfortable working with them, he argued.

Bochco called the lack of minorities on TV a function of economics rather than racism.

Since audiences failed to watch shows such as Paris, a drama Bochco produced a decade ago starring James Earl Jones, or the scrapped 1995 family drama Under One Roof, networks don't want to take the risk again, he said.

City of Angels carries the burden of proving a largely black cast can appeal to all viewers, Bochco acknowledged.

"I'm very conscious of the significance of the show," he said. I hope I'm not being naive that if we make a good show, the color of the characters will recede in importance."