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TV viewers show preference for more diverse casts, writers

(Left to right) Actors Brooks Brantly and Damian Thompson with Ricardo Khan, co-writer of the highly-anticipated stage play “
(Left to right) Actors Brooks Brantly and Damian Thompson with Ricardo Khan, co-writer of the highly-anticipated stage play “Fly.”

New UCLA study

The COVID-19 pandemic had plenty of people glued to their television sets, and a UCLA study released has found that viewers showed a distinct preference for shows featuring diverse casts and writers.

The UCLA Hollywood Diversity Report also found improvements in racial diversity in nearly every TV job category tracked by researchers. In fact, for the first time in the report’s history, people of color had a higher percentage of scripted broadcast TV acting roles—43.4 percent—than their overall percentage of the U.S. Population.

The report analyzed the 2019-20 TV season, tracking racial and gender diversity in multiple job categories, along with ratings and social media interactions involving 461 scripted shows on 50 broadcast, cable and streaming providers.

According to the study, scripted broadcast shows that earned the highest ratings were those in which people of color made up between 31 percent and 40 percent of credited writers.

“We have seen this appetite for diverse content repeated over the history of our analyses,’’ Darnell Hunt, co-author of the report and UCLA’s dean of social sciences, said in a statement. “The fact that shows with diverse writers rooms did well last year also illustrates that audiences are looking for authentic portrayals.’’

Researchers found that people of color made up 26.4 percent of credited writers of broadcast series, up from 23.4 percent the previous season; 28.6 percent of credited writers for cable shows, up from 25.8 percent; and 24.2 percent for streaming programs, up from 22.8 percent. Study authors noted that most of those gains were made by women.

The statistics for writers, however, still trailed behind the U.S. population, since 42.7 percent of Americans are non-White.

The report found impressive improvements in diversity among acting jobs, with increasing prevalence of majority-non-White casts. Among broadcast shows along, 32.1 percent had majority-non-White casts, up from 2 percent in the first diversity report that examined the 2011-12 TV season.

Researchers also found that ratings were higher for shows with more diverse casts. For streaming programs, ratings among White, Black and Asian households were highest for shoes that featured casts that were 31 percent to 40 percent non-White.

In other findings, the report determined the number of acting roles for women in the TV season was nearly equal to those of men. But trans and nonbinary actors were “virtually absent’’ in all platforms.

People of color directed 25.8m percent of broadcast episodes, 27.2 percent of cable episodes and 21.4 percent of streaming shows—up from 24.3 percent, 22.9 percent and 18.2 percent, respectively, in the 2018-19 season.