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'Bachelor' show discrimination? Why prime time TV is whiter than in 1976.

'Bachelor' show discrimination is at issue in a lawsuit that alleges the ABC program sought to exclude minorities. But 'The Bachelor' isn't alone in being predominately white. 

By Daniel B. WoodStaff writer, Staff writer / April 19, 2012

Christopher Johnson (r.) answers questions at a news conference as pictures of contestants from the television show 'The Bachelor' are shown on a screen Wednesday in Nashville, Tenn. Johnson and Nathaniel Claybrooks are taking 'The Bachelor' and 'The Bachelorette' to court with a lawsuit that claims the reality shows are blocking contestants of color from starring roles. Both men applied to be contestants on "The Bachelor."

Mark Humphrey/AP


Los Angeles

The class-action lawsuit filed in US District Court yesterday – alleging that ABC and producing companies have intentionally excluded people of color from lead roles on “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette” – has reopened the issue of diversity in broadcast television.

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Events such as the shooting death of Trayvon Martin have served as a backdrop for broader questions about whether America has come as far on racial equality as many would have hoped. Wednesday's lawsuit puts that spotlight on Hollywood. 

To be sure, strides toward racial equality on TV have been made, experts say. But these advances are not as big – or as long-lasting – as many hoped.

For example:

  • The 2011 fall network prime time television lineup included 27 new shows on ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, and the CW. Not one of the new scripted shows featured a predominantly minority cast, according to a 2011 survey by Angela Johnson Meadows, editor-in-chief of Diversity Best Practices.
  • Network prime time television was in some ways more diverse 35 years ago than it is today. The 1976 fall series lineup included five shows – “Good Times,” “Chico and The Man,” “Sanford & Son,” “The Jeffersons,” and the quickly cancelled “Mr. T and Tina” – that were centered on minority characters.
  • The only black lead in the current fall lineup is on “The Cleveland Show,” which is animated and the voice cast is primarily non-black, says Robert Thompson, founder of the Bleier Center for the Study of Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University.

“We are still not where we need to be despite some of the great strides the networks have made in trying to be multicultural,” says Los Angeles-based activist Najee Ali, director of Project Islamic HOPE. 

The problem is twofold, experts say.

One is a matter of clout within Hollywood. 

"The few African Americans in higher positions in that industry lack power to green light new series or make final creative decisions, which has translated into a critical lack of primetime programming by, for, or about people of color," said NAACP Hollywood Bureau Executive Director Vicangelo Bulluck in a 2008 report on television diversity, the latest released by the group.


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