The improvement might be seen as early as January, when CBS debuts "City of Angels," a hospital drama with a predominantly black cast. Barclay and Steven Bochco are the creators of the series. A spokeswoman for Bochco said yesterday that CBS has been "fabulously supportive" of the series.
Two places viewers can find African-Americans are the fifth and sixth broadcast networks the WB and UPN. Together they account for slightly less the 10 percent of network viewing most nights, while the big four combine for about 50 percent. But the WB often beats all but NBC in terms of young demographics, and UPN is adding three new series with African-American stars this fall: "Shasty McNasty," a sitcom about hip-hop performers; "Mo'Nique," a spinoff of the popular "Moesha"; and "Grown Up," with Jaleel White.
HBO and Showtime, the premiere cable channels, were also cited as examples of where some of the very best African-American talent is flowing.
For example, Braugher left NBC's "Homicide" before it was canceled and has since been seen in several quality Showtime and HBO productions. Last year, Showtime added the series "Linc's," from producer Tim Reid, about a bar frequented by African-American patrons in Washington. Last week, Showtime introduced the drama series, "Hoop Life," with a predominantly black cast. The executive producers are Barry Levinson and Tom Fontana.
As for writers, David Mills, the Humanitas-award-winning writer of "NYPD Blue" and "Homicide," wrote a pilot script for ABC this year that was not picked up. But ABC loss is HBO's gain; Mills is now co-executive-producer of "The Corner" with David Simon for next season on HBO.
A couple of minor points about Mfume's analysis: There are 27 new series next fall, not 26. And two of dramas -- the David Kelley drama "Snoops" for ABC and "Third Watch" on NBC -- have ensemble casts that include an African-American character. What it comes down to with these shows is how you define "leading character."
But the larger truth of what Mfume said Monday remains.
"This glaring omission is an outrage and shameful display by network executives who are either clueless, careless or both," Mfume said.