Sometimes the Networks Get a Bum Rap

Give Credit Where It's Due and Help Where It's Needed

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Bill Imada Bill Imada
ABC, NBC, CBS, and Fox are out to make a buck like other major broadcast networks, but often find their choice of programming and who is hired in front of and behind the cameras under constant scrutiny.

No other industry faces that scrutiny more than free-access broadcasters, and rightly so. But even with waning viewership, the networks must continually strive to develop programs that have broad appeal to keep agency and marketing folks happy.

As you have read in one of my earlier blogs, advertisers do have a responsibility to ensure that broadcasters create content that doesn't rob people of their dignity or perpetuate hatred against people based on their color, race, age, ethnicity, nationality, disability, sexual orientation, religious beliefs or gender.

However, when the major broadcasters do make progress in recruiting, hiring and promoting a truly diverse work force both on and off camera, we should all be the first to applaud their progress and encourage them to continue creating opportunities for people of all backgrounds. Yet often we don't.

Clearly there is more work that needs to be done by the major networks in hiring, promoting, retaining and engaging more Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, but I have witnessed first-hand the growing number of Asian faces at companies such as Disney-ABC and NBC, and the number of Asians now on primetime TV. "Grey's Anatomy," "Dancing with the Stars," "Heroes," "Lost," "Men in Trees" and "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" are examples of primetime shows where Asians now have visible, reoccurring roles. And that's progress -- significant progress. Yet despite this progress, there are still only a few Asian male television news anchors and this problem doesn't seem to be getting any better.

But how can we as marketers and advertisers help? We can engage in more face-to-face meetings with the broadcasters, talent recruiters, trade unions, screenwriters, producers, directors and actors to ensure that they recognize the importance of their roles in connecting with consumers of all backgrounds, cultures and ethnicities. And we can help the networks by assisting them in sourcing new talent whenever possible.

Also, studios and the networks won't make progress in hiring a more diverse pool of actors, producers, writers and directors unless more is done to highlight the opportunities that exist at these companies. Students and others who wish to pursue job opportunities in entertainment won't consider this career path without mentors or role models who are paving the way. And, community leaders and watchdog groups who are monitoring the networks on their progress toward greater workforce diversity can't talk about the progress that has been made without greater transparency and two-way dialogue.

The networks must also do their part by ensuring that they uphold and live by the goals and objectives they have established for greater diversity and inclusion. But even more importantly, the networks need to learn from past mistakes and work to ensure that future aberrations are avoided. When ABC apologized quickly and decisively for a line that called into question the credentials of Filipino medical professionals on a segment of "Desperate Housewives," it was clear to me that progress had been made to ensure that this network understood why the Asian-American community was incensed by this terrible blunder. And, when CBS canceled a program that offended Chinese and Asian-American communities around the country, and later decided not to renew the contracts of the program's DJs and producers, this also became an indication that the networks are beginning to recognize the moral and business repercussions in producing programs that shamelessly ridicule any community based on race, ethnicity or language proficiency.

Greater diversity at the major networks will happen eventually. But if we truly want to have an impact on the progress that has already been made in the areas of diversity and inclusion, we must offer the network leaders greater encouragement when they do make visible progress.
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