Race relations are taking a starring role in several new TV series this fall. Fox's "K-Ville," ABC's "Cavemen," CBS' "Cane," and the CW's "Aliens in America" and "Life Is Wild" couldn't be more different in incorporating cultural flavor.
"Cane" examines the criminal dealings of a loving Cuban family, whereas "Aliens in America" is a satirical look at the prejudice met by a Pakistani student in a small town. "Life Is Wild" follows a white family that moves to Africa.
Even "Cavemen," which premieres this week, has been labeled by ABC President Steve McPherson and that network's marketing department as a funny commentary about race relations with a "new minority group."
In one respect, the new shows are different from series already on the air, such as the acclaimed "Grey's Anatomy," that take place in a "colorblind" world, in that they will confront race, cultural pride and conflict directly.
Grey's Anatomy has won rave reviews for featuring, as crucial parts of its amazing cast, Asian, African-American, Hispanic and homosexual cast members.
But despite its multicultural cast, Grey's Anatomy does not - and according to its producers, will never - take on racial or ethnic issues overtly.
Interestingly, with all five new shows named above, it's not a person of color who will be steering that vision - the series have white, male show runners.
The lack of minority prominence in the creative process of these shows illustrates prime-time network TV's continuing uneasiness with embracing diversity, even as some of the most popular series (Lost, Heroes) feature diverse ensemble casts and two of TV's top series are run by people of color (Shonda Rhimes of Grey's Anatomy and Silvio Horta of Ugly Betty).
Whether it signals just a coincidence, or a setback in TV's avowed commitment to reflecting multiculturalism in front of and behind the camera, is uncertain.
The forces behind all of the shows other than Fox's "K-Ville," particularly ABC, CBS and their affiliated studios, declined to address race in the new shows and forbade producers from answering questions.
"There's just no upside for us to participate in that kind of discussion," said one executive. Another suggested that the issues of creative control, ego and racial sensitivities made the topic more delicate.
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