Monday, September 23, 2013

The Emmys, Black Folks and Jeff Daniels

As I watched the Emmys last night on CBS, I tweeted a question on Twitter.  I asked if there were more than ten black people in the audience.  That was a huge audience for the awards show.  However,  it looked as white as a Christmas party at Fox News.  Compare last night's audience to the audiences you see on the Grammys, the American Music Awards and an American Idol finale.  The music show crowds are definitely multi-racial.  Then came the Emmy nominees for Outstanding Writing in a Variety Series.  I saw the big writing staffs for a couple of the prime time variety shows nominated and you know what?  I've seen more black people in an Ingmar Bergman movie.  The variety show writing staffs needed racial variety.  Frankly, I'm concerned.  Look at these photos.

With its host, here are writers of ABC's Jimmy Kimmel Live!, a show that I like a lot.
Here are the writers of The Colbert Report with Stephen Colbert.
Here are photos of the writers for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart after an Emmy win.

A few years ago, when I was still living in New York City, I watched the Daily Show writers assemble onstage to accept another Emmys win and I thought to myself, "Do they have any black writers?"

I had that same thought last night watching the nominees for Outstanding Writing.  OK, some of the writers were not seen.  One show put up puppets instead of letting you see the writers.  But, on the other shows, I didn't notice one black writer.  I do believe that The Daily Show has one black male writer.  That's what I was told.  My response was "One.  The same exact number of black talent you saw in The Little Rascals."
And as for seeing a black woman ever accept an Emmy for TV series comedy writing, well....I think there have been more sightings of the Loch Ness monster than there have been of that on an Emmys telecast.

I blog this as someone who wrote for two national talk shows, both of which I hosted on VH1, and as someone who has written all his material for features on local and network news programs after his VH1 years.  Look at my previous three blogs -- one about my VH1 years, one with my WNBC news feature on Madonna and one with new things I found out last year about Marilyn Monroe from Oscar-winning actor Lou Gossett. That has clips from two recent TV pilots that I co-hosted.

I also blog this as someone who tried unsuccessfully to get a writing gig at Comedy Central after my VH1 years.  I couldn't even land a meeting.

What irritates me the most, what just makes me want to screech like when I hear the sound of fingernails scraping a chalkboard, is when those who consider themselves "progressives" and/or "liberals" don't get it -- and they should.  If your political comedy show writing staff is predominantly the same color as the Von Trapp Family Singers, then you really need to think about that before lampooning the lack of racial diversity in the GOP. There are plenty of us black writers in a New York City, Chicago or Hollywood who would LOVE the opportunity to be on your staff.  We'd LOVE a meeting to be on the writing staff for a network variety show.  But we can't get the opportunity.  And we've tried.

I went out on a couple of friendly dates with Ellen Cleghorne when she was with Saturday Night Live.  This was in 1992 when I worked for WNBC on a local news show.  Ellen liked me on VH1 in the late 1980s.  Once, before we went out for dinner, she took me up to the SNL offices.  We walked through a door and saw a bunch of guys, very Ivy League looking, at a table with all sorts of food that had been delivered.  "The writers," she said.  They were all white guys.  She then took me down a hallway.  We passed an office in which Dennis Miller was on the phone. At the end of the hallway was a small office with a black guy sitting alone.  "If I get a really good sketch that's written for me, he wrote it," Ellen said.  He was the lone minority man on the writing staff.

My late friend, Danitra Vance, was the first black woman to be added to the SNL cast.  Ellen, seen in the two pictures above, was the second.

It irks me that journalists don't seem to notice this lack of racial diversity.  Case in point:  the recent week-long salute to TV's late night hosts on National Public Radio's Fresh Air.  Five hour-long shows that went back to the 1950s and '60s with mentions of Steve Allen, Jack Paar and Johnny Carson.  The series went all the way up to today with Conan O'Brien, Jimmy Kimmel and Jimmy Fallon.  There was even talk of Pat Sajak, Joan Rivers and Chevy Chase.  There was not one soundbite from nor even one mention of Arsenio Hall in the entire week.  That was like having a series on the memorable inauguration speeches of modern presidents and leaving out any quotes from President Obama, our country's first black Commander-in-Chief.  And that was on National Public Radio which made me wonder, "Were  any black folks on staff to make a note about Arsenio's exclusion before the series went to air?"  A TV journalist contributed to the series.  Go into my blog archive for last month, August, and read "LATE NIGHT WEEK on NPR."


Does National Public Radio know that Arsenio Hall has returned to late night TV?

This is why I blog so many times about the need for more racial diversity in the entertainment industry and the need for more women directors, writers and producers.  This is why I blog about the need for for black film critics on TV.  This is why I remind you all that -- on ABC, NBC and CBS -- there has not been an African-American anchor of the weeknight evening news since the late Max Robinson co-anchored with the late Peter Jennings on ABC in the early 1980s.  Robinson died in 1988.  On those same networks, there has never been an African-American selected to host a late night show.  In its first 50 years, there were only two regular black talents on NBC's Today Show -- Bryant Gumble and Al Roker.  In its first 50 years.  Half a century.  I wanted to be the third.  Full disclosure:  I tried to be an entertainment contributor on Today during my WNBC years.  No luck.  A newsroom exec told me it wouldn't happen.

I am still proud the Sunday New York Times review my VH1 talk show and I got.  Want to read it?  Go to www.BobbyRivers.com.  Click onto the PRESS section on the upper left side, then read The New York Times Arts & Leisure article entitled "Signs of Intelligent Life in Music Television."

Unlike Joan Rivers, Rosie O'Donnell, Pat Sajak and Craig Kilborn, I was never offered a second national talk show host opportunity after having had my own prime time show on VH1.  And I wanted a second opportunity.  What I did get that they didn't in the 1990s was Caucasian producers who loved my work but wondered if America would accept a black TV host.  Heck, I couldn't even get a broadcast agent while I had the VH1 show.  From 1988 to 2008, I got just about all my national TV and radio gigs on my own because broadcast agents kept turning me down for representation.  The point is -- black people in the entertainment industry, whether on camera or off, still need equal opportunities.  We need help getting considered for equal opportunities.  I felt that last night seeing all the Emmy nominees for Outstanding Writing in a Variety Series.  Honestly, there was more racial diversity in the 1970s on The Electric Company.


I wish television journalists would notice the racial imbalances, report on them and begin asking the right questions.  If you look at those photos of the Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart political comedy show writing staffs, they have the same racial make-up as cutaway shots during a 2012 Mitt Romney presidential campaign speech.  That is scary.

Jeff Daniels won the Emmy last night for Best Actor in a drama series.  Excellent!  He's terrific on HBO's Newsroom.  Also, he was due some kind of national award.  This will come as a shock to many Red Carpet entertainment reporters, but Jeff Daniels has made other films besides Dumb & Dumber with Jim Carrey.  He's given smart, witty, deep, strong, moving and truthful performances.  I beg you --   see for yourself and rent these films starring Jeff Daniels:  Terms of Endearment (Oscar winner, Best Picture of 1983), The Purple Rose of Cairo (one of Woody Allen's best films of the 1980s), Something Wild (1986), Pleasantville (1998) and the divorce drama, The Squid and the Whale (2005).

Bravo, Jeff Daniels!

And finally...last night's Emmy Awards show had plenty of reminders that we lost some significant artists in the TV community.  Edie Falco gave a very touching and tender tribute to her former co-star from HBO's The Sopranos, the late James Gandolfini.

It was such a moving segment.  However, the way her outfit fell on her from the hips down, she reminded me of another famous television character.

Congratulations to all of last night's Emmy winners.

2 comments:

  1. I agree with your point. The lack of minorities is appalling. What Edie had to say about her friend was so moving especially when they went to her closeup. You could see from how red her eyes were she was crushed by her friend dying.
    Jeff Daniels delivers those Sorkin lines with a minimal amount of scenery chewing something lesser actors would not be able to avoid.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Jeff Daniels -- one of those skilled actors who makes the complicated seem effortless. I am so glad he won.

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