LOS ANGELES -- CBS plans to meet with the NAACP next month to discuss the lack of minority characters in its new fall series, but the network does not believe it has anything to apologize for, Les Moonves, president and CEO of CBS Television said yesterday.
"We do not think it's fair that the network that's the prime-time home of Bill Cosby, Della Reese, Cheech Marin, Arsenio Hall and Sammo Hung be accused of not recognizing the minority audience," Moonves told critics gathered here for TV's annual Summer Press Tour.
"And our minority representation is not limited to prime time," Moonves added. "Our No. 1 one football announcer is Greg Gumbel. Our No. 1 one morning announcer is Bryant Gumbel. There's Ed Bradley and Vicki Mabrey [correspondents for "60 Minutes" and "60 Minutes II"].
"We're conscious of the problem, and we're working every day to correct it," Mooves said. "But I think CBS stands alone as the number one network aware of its responsibility in this area ...
"I don't like it when people lump the whole television business into one large basket. I want to make the case at that meeting that we're doing what we think is appropriate," Moonves said, adding the meeting with the NAACP will be held in either Boston or New York.
Moonves said that Bill Gray, a former member of Congress who is now president of the United Negro College Fund, has been advising him on the issues raised by the NAACP at its convention earlier this month. The Baltimore-based civil rights group pointed out that of 27 new fall series on CBS, ABC, NBC and Fox, not one has a leading character who is a person of color. Gray is on the CBS board of directors.
As evidence of CBS' commitment to diversity, Moonves said the network had recently added a Latino character to the cast of "Now and Again," a drama about a middle-aged man who is killed and comes back in the body of a 27-year-old. "We did that because of this issue," Moonves said.
CBS also showcased one of its midseason replacements following the Moonves press conference, "City of Angels," a Steven Bochco drama about a big city hospital. While it is unusual to feature midseason rather than fall series on the press tour, "City of Angels" features a cast and crew that are both two-thirds non-white, according to Moonves.
Appearing with Bochco were co-creator and executive producer Paris Barclay and actors Michael Warren and Blair Underwood. Barclay, Underwood and Warren are African-American.
When asked how it could come to pass that there were no minority characters in any of the new fall series, Barclay said, "Most of the people who develop and oversee network television shows are white men who live in Malibu, Brentwood or Bel Air. They don't know a lot of black people and they're not interested in writing about them. They didn't grow up with them and they're not familiar with them.
"There are only a few people like Steven Bochco and Tom Fontana [executive producer of "Homicide: Life on the Street"] who are different and who are comfortable with [minority characters]," Barclay said.
Bochco said that he's had the idea for a black doctor drama since 1979, when one of the first series he produced, "Paris," starring James Earl Jones as a police detective, was canceled. In response to a question about whether the NAACP condemnation of the fall lineup is making a difference, he said, "In a sense, I guess it does."
In his case, he said the controversy should help guarantee a big initial audience for "City of Angels" when it debuts. But, he said, there is also added pressure that comes with the heightened interest.
"You don't see a lot of people doing cop musicals today," Bochco said, referring to one of the biggest bombs of his career, "Cop Rock."
"And there's a good reason for that: When we did it, it failed large," Bochco said. "So, what you know is that, if this show succeeds, there will be many similar shows to follow. If we don't succeed, it just becomes that much more difficult to get this kind of show on the air."