December 23, 2004

Few Latinos on TV

UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center Study finds TV series set in diverse cities, but few minority characters

By Letisia Márquez

Although many television series are set in some of the nation’s most diverse cities, few include regular characters who are Latino or Asian American, according to a study by the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center.

The study, based on the fall 2004 prime-time season on the six major English-language commercial networks, examines regular characters on television series, or those characters who have major recurring roles on series. This is the center’s third year conducting the study.

“This fall, viewers can see eight series set in Los Angeles in which Latinos account for just 14 percent of total regular characters and appear on just one series,” according to study authors Alison Hoffman, a UCLA Ph.D. student with the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television, and Chon Noriega, director of UCLA’s Chicano Studies Research Center and professor with the film school. “There are no Asian American regular characters. Los Angeles County is 45 percent Latino and 12 percent Asian American.”

“Thus, if television presents a microcosm of our society, it is a distorted one at odds with our nation’s changing demographics,” the authors stated.

“Shows set in Los Angeles - the very heart of the entertainment industry - are among the most segregated series with respect to white, Latino and African American regular characters,” Noriega said.

While Latinos are spread across more prime-time genres in fall 2004, their overall numbers have waned when compared to previous years, according to the study. Latino regular characters comprise four percent of prime-time’s regular characters, even though Latinos make up more than 13 percent of the U.S. population.

The study also showed an overall decline in the number of regular characters on prime-time as well as a decline in the total number and percentage of Latino, African American, Asian American and Native American regular characters.

Other study findings include:

· Latino-themed programming has declined from two series in 2002 and 2003 to one returning sitcom: “George Lopez.”

· Latino regular characters also decreased slightly but are perhaps more marginal than in past years; they are “sidekicks, supporting characters and ensemble players on white- and black-themed series.”

· Latino regular characters are virtually absent from three of the networks (FOX, WB, UPN) and maintain extremely low visibility on CBS and NBC.

· The only network that shows promise with respect to Latinos is ABC, accounting for 50 percent, or 13 out of 26, of this fall season’s Latino regular characters.

· In fall 2004, Latino regular characters appeared in seven out of 11 genres in the study, an increase from previous years.

· However, as in prior years, a significant number of series have all-white casts among their regular characters, or 38 percent of 109 programs.

· For series set in Miami-Dade County, Latino regular characters account for 27 percent of regular characters, whereas Latinos make up 57.3 percent of the Miami population.

· For series set in New York, Latino regular characters account for 8 percent of regular characters, whereas Latinos make up 27 percent of the New York City population.

· This year, for the first time in the study, there are just as many Asian American/Asian Pacific Islander male characters as there are female characters, but despite this positive step, together, they comprise about three percent of regular characters.

Researchers analyzed Web sites for television series, which promote the show’s regular characters with bios and photos. For series in which a Web site provided inconclusive information, researchers viewed the series’ title sequence during the first month of the fall 2004 season.

The entire report can be found at

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