April 9, 2004

Study finds few Latinos on television

Network prime-time programs during the fall 2003 season included more minority regular characters than in the previous year, but the number of Latino regular characters remained constant, according to a new study by UCLA’s Chicano Studies Research Center.

Overall, 25 percent of all regular characters, or 172, in fall 2003 were minorities compared with 23 percent, or 151, in fall 2002, according to the study, entitled “Looking for Latino Regulars on Prime-Time Television: The Fall 2003 Season.” White characters accounted for more than 75 percent of all regular character roles on prime-time television and can be found on 95 percent of all prime-time series.

The study found that although Latinos make up 13 percent of the U.S. population and represent the largest minority group, the percentage of Latino regular characters remained constant at 4.1 percent. The study counted 690 regular characters/hosts on prime-time television, and only 28 were Latinos. Furthermore, Latino regular characters appeared on only five out of 12 genres identified in the study.

“The good news has been the development of Latino-themed series at several networks since these series now account for almost one-third of Latino regular characters on prime-time television,” said Chicano Studies Research Center director Chon Noriega, who co-authored the study with Alison Hoffman, a researcher at the center. “But overall, Latinos are missing from 85 percent of television series. So if one of these Latino-themed series is cancelled, you see a big drop in numbers. That happened this year with the cancellation of ‘Luis’ and the shelving of ‘The Ortegas,’” Noriega said.

The study examined race as it is depicted onscreen through regular characters on individual programs and within genres on television’s six major English-language commercial networks. It also analyzed where a series located its dramatic center racially. White-themed series were identified as those in which the major central characters are white — and around whom minority regular characters function in more of a supporting role — or in which the storyline revolved around white characters, settings or themes. Similar distinctions were used to identify black-, Latino- and multiethnic-themed series.

Researchers analyzed television series’ Web sites that promote a show’s regular characters with biographies and images. For a series in which a Web site provided inconclusive information, researchers viewed the series’ title sequence during the first month of the fall 2003 season. “Our goal was to rely on the networks’ own marketing efforts, since it reflects their increasing sensitivity to these issues,” Noriega said.

Major findings in the report show: · The number of all minority regular characters increased slightly from 23 percent in fall 2002 to 25 percent in fall 2003. · Nevertheless, slightly fewer programs, or 60 percent, featured minority regular characters in fall 2003, compared with 63 percent in fall 2002. · “Luis” and “The George Lopez Show” were the only Latino-themed programs and accounted for 30 percent of all Latino regular characters on prime time. · Latino regular characters appeared on only five out of 12 genres: crime, situation comedy, drama, science fiction and sports. They were absent from other genres such as teen, medical, musical, and news and reality shows. · A significant percentage of Latino regular characters — 7 percent — appeared on crime shows; on sitcoms they made up 5.5 percent. Researchers had mixed views about these statistics. While crime shows and sitcoms are the two most popular genres, researchers also viewed the phenomenon as problematic in that these two genres largely define how Latinos are portrayed on television. · Dramas accounted for the lowest percentage of Latino regular characters, or 1.7 percent, and they also had the lowest number of minority regular characters, or 15 percent.

Researchers questioned why few or no minority regular characters appear on prime-time television series, particularly when many series are set in diverse urban areas such as “The O.C.,” “Good Morning Miami” and “ER,” which does not have any Latino regular characters.

“These and many other series are set in cities with large, if not majority, Latino populations and yet they do not have Latino regular characters,” Noriega said.

Noriega and Hoffman praised the networks for their inclusion of multiethnic shows, which accounted for 7 percent of prime-time television series, and which were often marketed for their multiethnic casts and appeal.

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