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The Browning of American TV

Vida en el Valle, News Report, Staff Posted: Oct 29, 2009

Fifteen percent of the U.S. population is of Latino descent, but Latinos remain underrepresented on English-language television.

Only 4 percent of on-camera talent is Latino, a number that does not reflect reality, said Alex Nogales, president of the National Hispanic Media Coalition.

"That is very far away from where we need to be," Nogales told Latina magazine.

More than 60 years ago, Cuban actor Desi Arnaz stole the hearts of many in one of the most successful comedy shows of all time, 'I Love Lucy.' A limited number of Latinos followed: Freddy Prince in 'Chico and the Man' (1974), Ricardo Montalbn in 'Fantasy Island' (1977) and, years later, Mario Lpez in 'Saved by the Bell' (1989).

Today, with George Lpez, Amrica Ferrera and Salma Hayek, it may seem that Latino names have taken over prime-time television. Not so.

"You see the success of an Eva Longoria Parker or an Amrica Ferrera, and you think, 'Wow! There's a lot of us!' Not really," said Nogales, who blames Spanish-language networks such as Univisin, Telemundo and TV Azteca for selling advertisers the myth that most Latinos in the United States watch TV in Spanish. "In reality, it's 20 percent. Most of us watch TV in English."

Nogales and the National Hispanic Media Coalition blame the networks for not hiring more behind-the-scenes Latino talent, such as writers, producers and executives.

In December 2008, the Multi-Ethnic Media Coalition -- made up of the National Latino Media Council, the Asian Pacific American Media Coalition and the American Indians in Film and TV -- released its annual diversity report card giving diversity grades for the major networks -- ABC, B+; NBC, B; CBS, B+; and Fox, B+.

The results were inspiring.

"After nine years of assessing the diversity efforts of ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox, we strongly believe that network television diversity for the American Latino community is finally taking hold," said Esteban Torres, chairman of the National Latino Media Council "But there is still great room for improvement in the area of minority business procurement."

Report results showed Fox as the only network that improved its overall diversity; ABC went down a grade.

"While ABC significantly increased its total number of American Latino actors in unscripted reality programming, it fell short in its total number of Latino actors in primetime scripted programming and Latino directors," Torres said.

The National Hispanic Media Coalition said the networks have made changes and seem to be making progress. The Fox network has a policy that each show must employ at least one minority writer and director per quarter. ABC and NBC sponsor a five-week writer-development workshop with the media coalition.

"The number of American Latinos both in front and back of camera has increased, but we also realize that they are incremental numbers in proportion to the American Latino population," Torres said. "We simply need more Latinos on television and throughout the entertainment industry, as well as on the news and public affairs programs. All Americans across this nation need to understand that we have the same aspirations and preoccupations as everyone else. We want to provide for our families, we want to keep them safe, and we want what every other American in this great nation of ours enjoys -- equity, fairness and justice."

The complete report card can be found online at www.nhmc.org.

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