Tracee Ellis-Ross and Malcolm Jamal-Warner star in BET'a 'Reed Between the Lins'

*The LA Times‘ Greg Braxton has written an interesting piece on the disappearance of black family sitcoms from network TV since ‘The Cosby Show” back in the eighties. One of the few exceptions is BET’s “Reed Between the Lines.”

Braxton points out that despite hundreds of new TV channels and the popularity of “The Cosby Show” – and subsequent series featuring minority families such as “My Wife and Kids,” “George Lopez” and “Ugly Betty” – ethnic families are still a rarity on the small screen today.

Family comedies once dominated the networks decades ago, but now these programs have had been a tougher time breaking into prime time as audiences have gravitated toward edgier fare with more mature content. Of course, there are still family comedies on the air, but of those almost all of them focus primarily on white families – “The Middle, “Up All Night,” “Raising Hope” and “Last Man Standing,” for example. TBS’ “Are We There Yet?” and Fox’s animated “The Cleveland Show” are the only other family-oriented comedies starring African American families. And mixed-race or ethnic families, such as on ABC’s “Modern Family,” are also scarce.

“I’ve seen this movie before,” Bill Cosby said in a recent interview. “How is it that there are people of color who are CEOs of companies, that are presidents of universities, but there is no reflection of that on the networks? It is arrogance and it is narcissism. Even the commercials have more black people than the programs.”

Network honchos, particularly at the four major networks, continue to stress they consider diversity to be a priority both in front of and behind the camera. But progress has been slow in both places. A survey conducted by the Directors Guild of America of more than 2,600 television episodes from 170 scripted TV series for the 2010-11 season found that white males directed 77% of all episodes, and white females directed 11% of all episodes. Minority males directed 11% of all episodes and minority females directed just 1% of the shows, according to the DGA survey.

“Look at the huge number of comedies. There is no black presence,” said Doug Alligood, a senior vice president at BBDO, a New York-based ad agency. “We’re back to where we were in the ’80s.”

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