[INFOGRAPHIC] Racial Diversity On TV (Fall 2012)

Racial Diversity Infographic Fall 2012

Once again, it’s time for our annual deep dive into the state of Race on TV.

Last year was our first foray into the sensitive topic of Race on TV and this year promises to be another challenge. Why you ask? Well, as much as some would like to think that ever since Obama’s election, race is no longer a factor; others, including yours truly, would beg to differ.

Last year, we discovered that things were pretty bleak out there in the Network TV world. With NBC leading the pack and CBS trailing at the bottom, it was heartbreaking to see that this supposedly “post racial” world in which all races are fairly represented in our five major networks just doesn’t exist yet. For minorities out there searching for someone that resembles them on the small screen, it can be a very difficult feat.

This year, as we wade through this uneasy exercise once more, let us keep in mind that the goal is not to bring affirmative action to TV but rather to highlight a reality that cannot be ignored. It’s one thing to believe there is a serious lack of racial diversity on TV but it’s quite another to see the numbers for yourself.

So without further ado, here is the state of racial diversity on TV for the Fall 2012 TV season (Click on the image to enlarge):

Quite a lot of data to digest, so here is a little analysis that I put together for those who want to know a bit more about what it all means.


So what does the data tell us? Things are looking pretty “token” for lack of a better word.

While only 15% of series have no minorities in their main cast (F), 60% of those series happen to be on CBS & 20% on CW. This is a puzzling coincidence since both networks belong to the same corporation.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, we find that 19% of series have more than two minorities in their main cast (A). It is also worth noting that 50% of those series air on NBC, followed by ABC with 36% of A Level series.

However, with a whopping 46% of shows in the (C) category, it is clear from the data that for most networks, racial diversity often means having just one token minority. Once again, CBS and CW find themselves in the lead in that category with 29% and 19% respectively of their shows.

NBC Still Leads The Pack

Similar to last year and as mentioned above, NBC still leads the pack as the network with the most diversity in its scripted programming.

While there is some slippage for some shows compared to last year, most of it is due to the fact that I am far stricter this year in terms of who counted as a regular cast member and/or who is considered a minority (ex: A white actor portraying a minority does not count anymore).

All and all, NBC should be especially commended for being THE ONLY network with a minority in every single one of its series. Every single one. Way to go, NBC.

ABC and FOX Still Holding The Middle

Sad to say, ABC and FOX still have the honor of holding down the middle.

To their credit, ABC has less shows in the F category and a few more shows in the A category so they are clearly doing better than last year….if it weren’t for the fact that instead of putting more shows in the A and B categories, they stacked quite a few of them with token minorities landing those in the C category, which tampered with their progress.

I will however give FOX the prize for consistency as their diversity ratios stayed fairly consistent year over year. One show in the A category, one show in the F category and everything else nicely divided up between B & C.

CBS & CW: A Work In Progress

There is no way to sugarcoat this but CBS and CW are once more trailing the bottom with the most number of shows in the C & F categories.

A simple look at the infographic shows how the networks lack diversity in their programming. CBS would have taken the prize for worst network but CW beat them by a hair by not having any series in the A category. Not much to be proud of here.

Don’t Shoot The Messenger

Before I am accused of being completely biased because of my background, let’s get a few things out of the way.

First, there are a lot of shows in this infographic that I enjoy regardless of their grade. In fact, some of my favorite shows are on CBS. And like all of you, I want to know who the mother is on How I Met Your Mother and I really hope that Hope from Raising Hope turns out to be out a wonderful child (See what I did there with the word “Hope”, Obama would be so proud). The fact that they have no diversity in their main cast does not mean that I enjoy them any less.

Second, I don’t equate the quality of a series with its grade. My goal is not to claim that by adding more diversity, the series would be better in some way. A good actor is a good actor, regardless of their ethnicity.

However, it just so happens that my preference is for the little screen I dearly love to reflect the world I live in from time to time. Is that so much to ask?

Lastly, even if you find a few debatable grades in the lot, you will end up finding that overall the grades are fairly close to reality.


If next year is anything like this year, I expect not much will change. NBC will probably still hold the top prize while CBS and CW will still be struggling neck and neck for the bottom spot.

However, the dreamer in me sees a time where this infographic will become obsolete; a day in which diversity is so hardwired into our society that every show will be either in the A or B category; heck, the B category might become the new F.

Wouldn’t that be something?


Let’s turn it to you. What do you think of racial diversity on TV? Do you think that it needs more of it or are you happy with the status quo? Share your thoughts in the comment section below and thank you for reading.

You can follow me on Twitter @itsameric

  • ptjackson

    These are very interesting statistics. And, as it happens, I have been thinking about this lately, and noticing the diversity as I watch programs.

    One thing I would like to see included next time you do the analysis, if possible, would also be other non-racial minorities, such as the disabled, etc. For instance, ABC Family has Switched at Birth, which employs hearing impaired actors. Syfy has a little person or dwarf on the program Lost Girl. Or maybe this would be a separate data analysis. 😎

    I think the usefulness of these types of statistics raises public awareness, and that has the most impact on getting networks to change. I have also been watching commercials with an eye towards diversity, and I am seeing strides there too.

    Anyway, thank you for taking the time to do this – I know how hard it can be to compile statistics, and I appreciate the effort!

    • Thanks for the kind words, PT. 

      I agree with you that exploring non-racial minorities is a worthy goal and hopefully can be pursued in the future. It’s interesting that you bring up Cable TV as that is actually the only area I haven’t fully explored for diversity at all.Definitely food for thought!

      Also agree with you that this kind of analysis is sorely lacking in the TV industry. I am not naive to think that meager contribution will move things but heck, a small step is sometimes all it takes.

      • ptjackson

         You have to start somewhere. It’s like that old adage of the boy standing on the shore throwing starfish back into the sea. The old man says it is impossible to save them all, and the boy says, “I made a difference for that one.” 😎

    • Switched At Birth also has Latinos in their cast, and features storylines exploring racial issues without falling into tokenism, stereotype or caricature. Good call, PT — smile

      • ptjackson

        Good point – thanks for making it! 😎

  • Lisalisalisa

    I think it’s interesting though that as the network with the worst grade, The CW is the only network that has two shows starring Asian-American women as the lead title characters of their shows (Nikita and Beauty and the Beast). I think you might have missed some of the cast members of Beauty and the Beast as well, as Nina Lisandrello and Nicole Anderson are also regular members of the cast in addition to Kristin Kreuk. Shows where women of color are the main leads are definitely in the minority, as Scandal and The Mindy Project are the only other network series that I can think of that qualify. That puts The CW in a unique position of having the least diversity in their supporting casts but some of the most diversity in terms of the actual stars of their shows.

    • Thanks for the comment. I think you make an interesting point about CW having lead characters who are minorities as well. That is indeed a rare occurrence and something that should be encouraged.

      Regarding Beauty and the beast, I didn’t count these actress for grading purposes because I could not find any indication of Nina Lisandrello’s ethnicity and Nicole Anderson is not on any of the official cast photos. So in doubt, I decided to stay conservative.

  • someoneinatree

    This chart is giving me a serious case of side-eye… to the “grading” done by the chart-maker, I mean.

    • okay, can you be a bit more specific?

      • someoneinatree

        Well, in addition to what was said in the comment below mine… Mindy Kaling is the star of her [own] show and yet is classified as “token”? And even though Glee has POC in their show, I feel as thought they shouldn’t be credited as such because of the fact that those characters are typically stereotyped or almost completely ignored.

        • someoneinatree

          *Note: Not credited as such in regards to the chart – not the people, of course.

        • I see your point. 

          Regarding Mindy Kaling, the use of the word “token” is just shorthand for having a single minority on the series and does not refer to the importance of the part.Regarding Glee, there is always room to debate who should be added in the chart or not. One can always use different factors to decided who should be classified as a main cast member and I just used the official cast photos. If you are in it, you are part of the main cast. Hence the inclusion of the characters in the grading.

          Thanks for reading and commenting

  • Crystal

    I’m not sure how you gathered your statistics, to be honest? Your chart placed New Girl in the C range, despite the series having two leads of color — Hannah Simone and Lamorne Morris. Then I know you mentioned you didn’t count white leads who play people of color (which isn’t my complaint) but did you do similar with the opposite? Leave out people of color who play white people, like in the case of Darren Criss on Glee, Cote de Pablo on NCIS, or Steven R. McQueen on Vampire Dairies?

    • Wow, you are absolutely right. How could I skip those two cast members from the New Girl? Thanks for noticing that. I will make a note of it and update the chart accordingly.

      Also, to answer your other question, I only looked the actors ethnicity so Cote De Pablo was counted but I was unaware of Darren Criss &  Steven R. McQueen ethnicity

      There are always going to be instances where you find exceptions however, you will agree that the overall trend tends to stay the same in terms of the breakdown. Curious to hear your thoughts on that.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

      • Lisalisalisa

        Michael Trevino of The Vampire Diaries is also a person of color.

      • Margaret

        Hi, just a friendly reminder! Came to the chart today and New Girl immediately jumped out at me, but was glad someone had brought it to your attention in the comments. Thanks for your interesting insights!

  • Julie

    That is a terrible graph that only takes into account quantity while completely ignoring quality. Nikita has only 1 Asian character to Glee’s 2, but let’s not forget that Nikita’s Asian character is actually THE lead character of the show. One of the only Asian lead characters on a major primetime network show, IIRC. Mike and Tina Chang on Glee are a lot more tokenized than Nikita’s ever been, even though there are two of them.

    If we’re going to dock points from Nikita, let’s focus more on how they keep killing off the black characters….

    • Julie, I think you make an interesting point regarding the inclusion of quality in the graph. Unlike quantity, quality is highly subjective and far more difficult to integrate in the calculation that goes into grading. That is why I chose quantity because it is a tad more objective.

      As I said previously, the use of the word “token” is just shorthand for having a single minority on the series and does not refer to the importance of the part. I can understand why that can cause some confusion.You also bring up another interesting point on how minorities are being treated in storylines. I too notice that more often than not, minorities end up with stereotypical roles. However that is the subject of another article altogether i am afraid.This is a difficult topic to take one because of its complexity and sensitivity. Disagreements and debates are definitely par for the course in this case.

      Thanks for commenting and reading.

  • Engwericox

    Just so you know 90210 has two POC Tristan Wilds and Michael Steger.  It should be in the B range

  • Maria

    Michael Trevino may be Mexican, but he plays a white character on Vampire Diaries. THAT’S NOT THE SAME!

  • SBrown

    Personally I feel 2 Broke Girls should just be put in the F category anyway, for playing on awful racist stereotypes.

    • Yeah, it’s kind of like if Rob had actually been picked up for a season… technically it had at least three minorities (the love interest and her parents at least, from what the reviews told me), but to say it gets an A for racial diversity would be giving it FAR too much credit since the show was essentially an excuse for them to make really racists joke and try to be edgy.

  • I have to say I really don’t understand this. If it’s about racial minorities then why count all Latinos as PoC? Many Latinos on American tv are fully white/of European descent… it seems you’re more implying ethnic minorities, and if you are why count Eastern Europeans for example like Nina Dobrev and Paul Wesely from Vampire Diaries in with White Americans? So white Latinos are separate but Eastern Europeans are the same? I don’t get it.. one just happen to speak Spanish (which is a European language)… they’re both no more Anglo than the other. Also if it is about racial minorities, then why are Middle Easterners being counted as minorities if for the most part they’re Caucasian and even viewed as such by the American census? It seems people pick and choose who a minority is in the US… another thing are people who are racially mixed but “look” fully “Caucasian” minorities too?… 

  • Grrnomnom

    It’s a crying shame for some of these, because I love How I Met Your Mother and Supernatural. And they have close to 99% white main casts.  As a PoC, I admit I was a wee bit disappointed there couldn’t have been a more realistic representation.

    • It’s kind of like the Bechdel test … a lot of my favorite movies don’t pass by a long shot. That doesn’t make them bad movies or sexist movies, but it does show how big of a trend it is for entertainment to be skewed into mainly white male characters (and often white characters in general, to be fair). It’s not that we need to force every show or movie to have lots of diversity, but lack of diversity in television across the board is kind of pitiful.

  • Holy Roman Empire

    Just stumbled on this… you need to move Modern Family to the ‘A’ List. (Manny, Gloria, & Lily)

  • erbie

    Another thing you should take into account is the percentage of leads who are POC vs the overall number of leads. By your scale, New Girl should be a B (even though you have it as a C). Winston and CeCe are two of five leads, so 40% of the leads. That’s should be an A. But to get an A, your scale says “More than Two.” What happens if there are three leads, and two of them are POC? That should be an A, but would be a B in your scale. Or what if there are 10 leads and three of them are POC? That would be an A in your scale, but it’s a lot lower percentage of POC in lead roles than New Girl, which would be a B. Or what if there are two leads, and they are both POC? Shouldn’t that be an A?

  • Sam

    This list is interesting, with a show like Glee or Two broke girls, I have to wonder how important visibility is in relation to stereotypical representation. Also two shows that you might want to bump up, both 30 rock, with tracy, grizz, dot com, twofer and jonathan. And maybe also upgrade suburgatory, because again, although stereotypes, it does include two latino maids, tessa’s friend and the school counselor.

    One last note, I think it would be really interesting to include other shared networks, like abc family or bravo on cable. I know ABC family is one of the best channels at representing diversity, sexuality, race, ability.

  • Seems The CW is making an effort with their upcoming The Carrie Diaries, the 1980s set Sex And The City prequel, which includes Freema Agyeman and Ellen Wong among the regular cast; which made me think, “Odd that Carrie had a more diverse group of friends when she was kid than as an adult in New York City” — smile

  • APN

    Emily Owens M.D. should be bumped up to an A. Aja Naomi King, Necar Zadegan, and Kelly McCreary have all been featured in cast photo promos.

  • who gives a sh$#? Leave race out of it.

  • SylviaStout

    I second Holy Roman Empire, regarding Modern Family. Gloria+Manny+Lily=3. Lily has lines in every episode, so she doesn’t fall under the “baby” subcategory.

  • Ben

    Who cares? Only race-obsessed liberals, I imagine. I would be proud to have an “F.”

  • I’m a little confused about how these are rated. The shows I’ve watched on CW have been pretty diverse: Beauty and the Beast, Supernatural, and Arrow. Is the network rated on an overall thing? Because Beauty and the Beast is hella diverse, unless you consider Beauty white, which she isn’t. I think Beast and his best friend are the only white dudes on the show with major roles. Everyone else is Asian, Latina, Black, etc.