NAACP targets prime time

Television: Kweisi Mfume, president of the civil rights group, is expected to announce steps to bring more diversity to network TV shows.

Radio and Television

November 03, 1999|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

The NAACP will announce today that it will hold an industry-wide hearing in Los Angeles on the lack of diversity on network television shows, a spokesman for the civil rights organization said yesterday.

The announcement will be made at a press conference in New York, where Kweisi Mfume, president of the organization, will describe the NAACP response to the matter.

While actions could eventually include selected boycotting, the NAACP will not call for a full boycott of network television during the November "sweeps" ratings period, which starts tomorrow, according to John C. White, a spokesman for the NAACP. Such a boycott had been suggested in July, when Mfume pointed out that none of the 27 new fall series from ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox had a person of color in a leading role.

He called it a "virtual whitewash" of the nation's prime-time television screens.

After Mfume's attack, made at the NAACP's national convention, the networks scrambled to add minority members to many shows, mainly in supporting roles. In some cases, producers and network executives argued that they had planned to add the minority characters all along. But the truth is that Mfume's critique was highly effective in exposing the issue and bringing about change. All four networks say they have since met Mfume to discuss the matter.

`Greed' and other games

The junking-up and dumbing-down of network television goes into overdrive this week with the arrival of one new game show, the return of another and the pre-emption of one of television's best series to make room for reruns. Or, let me put this another way: Does American television really need more Chuck Woolery, Dick Clark and Regis Philbin?

That is what we will be getting in the coming days. And, while it would be nice to blame it all on the November "sweeps," sad to say, this is part of a larger downsizing of prime-time TV as the networks take over production and look for ways to cut costs.

Fox, in the throes of a disastrous new season, unleashes a new game show, "Greed," tomorrow night at 8. Produced by Clark and hosted by Woolery, it opens with six contestants faced with multiple-choice questions. Clark says, "You start out working as team, but eventually players have the option to challenge and terminate other players, which is where the greed comes in."

"Greed," with $2 million in prize money, will also air Nov. 11 and 18. Maybe the idea is to watch it as ironic commentary on U.S. capitalism from those two great social satirists, Clark and Fox chairman Rupert Murdoch. OK, probably not.

But let's give credit where credit is due. Without the tremendous success of Regis Philbin's "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" this summer on ABC, we wouldn't have the imitator, "Greed." "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" returns Sunday after a triumphant run last summer.

The really bad news is that it will also air Nov. 9 and 16, and one of the series ABC is pulling to make room for it is "Sports Night," the acclaimed sitcom from Aaron Sorkin. "Sports Night" has respectable ratings, but not the kind you can get by giving away a million dollars in a game show hosted by Philbin. With holiday pre-emptions, "Sports Night" won't return until December.

`Homicide' successor flops

Under the heading of "Maybe You Should Have Stuck With What You Had," NBC this week canceled "Cold Feet," the Friday night relationship drama that replaced "Homicide: Life on the Street." Despite all the critical acclaim for "Homicide," NBC said the cop drama did not warrant keeping it on the air.

Well, guess what? "Cold Feet" never once had an audience as large as the worst week for "Homicide" last year, and now the network can eat several million dollars worth of never-to-be-aired episodes. Way to go, guys.

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