B&C Eye

A little diverse

A study about to be released by media buyer Initiative Media suggests the networks have made a little more progress than they get credit for in adding minority characters to their shows.

A comparison of the announced fall prime time schedules of 1999 and 2001 showed an increase from 12% of all characters to 14%. The biggest percentage gainer was NBC, which nearly doubled the number of minority cast members—from 12% in 1999 to 23% this fall. ABC had increased from 15% to 20%. And Fox was up significantly in African American representation, from 7% in 1999 to 13% in 2001.

The NAACP's Kweisi Mfume is still not satisfied, as was made clear last week. (See Top of the Week story, page 14.) But according to Initiative some networks (CBS, UPN, WB) have actually had downward "corrections," because they've "represented African-Americans in excess of their incidence in the population."

The study does conclude networks need to do a better job with Hispanics and said they still must improve the number of minorities who create series television. —J.S.

Anne Robinson said "good-bye" to Jill Chenault, but the former Weakest Link
contestant could get the last word. Chenault is a leading contender to host NBC's syndicated strip version of the show, say sources. The African-American attorney from Detroit impressed NBC executives when she traded barbs with Robinson on an early episode. After a tryout, Chenault will now star in one of the strip's pilots. (Bigger-name talent is also competing.)

Chenault may have a leg up on the competition. Any host chosen will be compared with Robinson, say folks behind the strip, so, if someone entirely different, a black woman with no prior showbiz experience, is picked, "the comparisons will be few and far between." A choice needs to be made shortly: Production is expected to begin Oct. 15, and NBC is committed to a January launch.—S.A.

Take a letter

As we report this week, the NAB says about a third of TV stations surveyed won't make the FCC's May 2002 deadline for DTV conversion (see page 6). And Trinity Broadcasting says it will be lucky to get a half dozen of its 22 stations up and running in digital by then. That's why the religious network has been asking viewers via its Web site to contact their congressman about cutting them some slack. Trinity wants to give back its digital channel now for auction and take until 2006 to convert to digital. Viewers certainly listened; now the FCC has received pleas from Sens. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), Phil Gramm (R-Texas) and John Breaux (D-La.) on behalf of constituents.—J.E.

BET chief: Right on

As chairman of Black Entertainment Television, Bob Johnson was never very prominent on the political scene. But now that he has fully cashed in by selling BET to Viacom, he's taking a much more prominent role in politics, though not in places you'll find, say, Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson (Senior or Junior). This week's issue of the
The New Republic
notes that, in addition to publicly supporting the repeal of the estate tax as a benefit to blacks, he's also stepping up to champion privatization of the Social Security system. The article contends that Johnson is setting himself up as "Bush's go-to guy" in the black community. "And it looks like he's succeeding."—J.H.