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NBCUniversal: Diversity focus looks like the same old focus

Gail Choice | 8/3/2011, 5 p.m.

There are a whole lot of changes going on at NBCUniveral, and some of it will hopefully impact the African American community. This week NBCU presented a press conference for television critics from around the world at the Television Critics Association Press Tour. At this event they showcased new network shows for the fall season, and even brought out cast members and the production teams to hype the shows.

There will be a Black presence in front of the camera on NBC, but not where the real power is, the decision-making power, which is behind the camera. In a future article we'll present the new stars of such hot shows as "The Playboy Club," "Grimm," "Up All Night," and "Prime Suspect," each of these shows have Black actors in leading roles.

NBC Entertainment Chairman and President Robert Greenblatt appeared at the TCA tour on Monday morning, addressing the writers about the new programming and changes in the company. A writer questioned Greenblatt about the apparent lack of diversity as evidenced in the new programming, saying, "NBC made a lot of noise and was very aggressive in promoting their diversity last season with minority leads and shows based around people of color. They said they were committed to diversity. That commitment doesn't seem terribly evident in this season's schedule."

Greenblatt , former president of entertainment for Showtime Networks Inc., responded: "You always make year-to-year comparisons, and I'm sure you're up or down on what you did the past year. I think we're very committed to diversity." He went on to say, "I'm a producer ... as a producer, I produced four Black sitcoms ("One on One," "Eve," "The Hughleys," and "Platinum"), a Black drama, and a Latino drama. I'm really committed to this. You just have to find the right shows, and you have to put ... you just really have to put the right shows on. So you can't just make the choice about, oh, it's a show with the diverse lead, and that's gonna get the slot. We have to make all those judgment calls. But we are embedded in diversity from our casting initiatives and our development initiatives and our director program, and I think hopefully you will see these statistics going in our favor as time goes on."

Right now the big picture, however, doesn't look as promising. The real power lies in those who will have the ability to get things done, those who are the decision-makers. These people hire the producers, writers and directors. The directors in turn hire crew members, long-standing jobs that enable an individual to go from show to show. There are not a lot of Blacks in those positions as was evident at the NBCU press tour.

It seems Comcast, which purchased NBCUniversal earlier this year made a lot of promises when they were attempting to make the mega-purchase. The National Urban League, NAACP and Al Sharpton's National Action Network, major civil rights groups, see several trouble spots with their efforts to work with Comcast, TheWrap reported. NBCU, for example, has yet to fill the post of chief diversity officer. It has been vacant since Paula Madison, executive vice president, retired in May.

The cable giant promised to increase the profile of minorities at the company and launch eight independent cable networks, including four under African American control.

Comcast's chief spokeswoman told TheWrap the cable company has received "more than 100 high-quality proposals" for the first Hispanic and African American channels. Several have been chosen "to participate in the next phase of our evaluation process, which will consist of more detailed business discussions in the coming months."

It all remains to be seen.

Gail Choice can be reached at hollywoodbychoice_gail@yahoo.com