TV Shows with All-White Casts Get Lower Ratings?

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Wed, Oct 9, 2013 at 9:03 AM
  • Jennifer Lopez on set in L.A. via Sterling Davis Photo / LA Weekly Flickr pool.

The population of Los Angeles is roughly half Latino these days. But you wouldn't know it within some business communities, like Hollywood's, where many of the brown folks you see are working craft services (those buffets at location shoots), driving trucks or working security for Jimmy Kimmel.

So much television is shot here that it's just bizarre to see Los Angeles on the little screen and observe few (if any) minorities around, even in the background. It's not the town we know.

Entertainment suits will say they're trying, but that it's a competitive business (thus, only white people can make the grade). Maybe this will change their minds about diversifying Hollywood's workforce:

A new UCLA study says viewers are actually more likely to watch shows with diverse casts.

The research by UCLA's Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies was unveiled this week at the 27th annual National Association for Multi-Ethnicity in Communications conference in New York.

Academics looked at 1,000 shows on 67 cable and broadcast networks during the 2011-2012 season, according to the school. "Racial diversity does make a marked and measurable difference to television's bottom line," a summary of the findings states.

See also: New Seth Green Show "Dads" is Racist Against Asians, Group Says.

In fact, it wasn't just a black guy here, an Asian American there that increased a show's score. Programs that had 31 to 40 percent minority casts did the best numbers, UCLA says:

Only dramas and comedies -- not reality shows -- were included in this part of the analysis. Examples of shows that reflected this level of diversity were A.N.T. Farm (Disney), The Closer (TNT) and Falling Skies (TNT).

  • CSI New York in L.A. via Sterling Davis Photo / LA Weekly Flickr pool.

Shows where 1 in 10 writers or fewer are minorities suffered a ratings "slump," the study says. Shows with writing staffs that are 11 to 50 percent minority, including In Plain Sight (USA), Common Law (USA) and Southland (TNT), saw ratings peaks, UCLA says.

The researchers admit the broadcast network shows didn't suffer as much when their writing staffs weren't so diverse, but UCLA said that, generally, those shows with more minorities (21 to 30 percent) at the writers' tables appeared to do better "than those of most broadcast shows."

The academics point to America's increasing diversity as the reason. Darnell Hunt, a UCLA sociology professor and the study's author, says:

It's clear that people are watching shows that reflect and relate to their own experiences.

Send feedback and tips to the author. Follow Dennis Romero on Twitter at @dennisjromero. Follow LA Weekly News on Twitter at @laweeklynews.

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