Monday, February 8, 2016

This Time, I Was Interviewed

Diversity in the arts and equal opportunities for employment are extremely important to me.  I was asked to comment on the "Oscars So White" controversy that sparked again when there was an obvious lack of racial diversity in some top categories of the Oscar nominations.  You can read the interview online.  Ed Sikov is a noted and published film historianEd is also a solid journalist who remembers when I was a veejay and prime time talk show host on VH1.  I'm very proud that the New York Times, People magazine and TV Guide wrote excellent things about my talk show host work.  Oscar and Tony winner Liza Minnelli was a guest.
I'm also very proud to have been the first black talent to be given a prime time celebrity talk show on VH1.  Watch Bobby Rivers still ranks as a high point in my TV career.  It was a great opportunity that allowed me to write, research and perform for a national audience.
Despite the fine reviews I got for my talk show and the CableACE nomination I got for Best Interviewer (I lost to Larry King), I was never offered another national talk show host opportunity.  My former VH1 co-worker and buddy, Rosie O'Donnell, had more than one national talk show host opportunity.
But then Rosie probably never had TV executives fret over whether or not TV viewers would accept her because she's Caucasian.  Right after my VH1 years, I got the host spot in a very classy game show pilot for possible syndication.  I loved it.  Unfortunately it didn't get picked up.  One staffer told me that, although the whole crew loved me (and the feeling was mutual), TV execs would come in when I was gone and ask the producer if TV viewers would accept a black game show host.  This was 1991.  And Rosie, I'm sure, had a much easier time getting representation.  The VH1 job in the late 80s, that game show pilot shot in Hollywood, work on WNBC's and WNYW/Ch. 5's local morning New York City news programs in the 90s, a movie critic job for ABC News on Lifetime TV, a Food Network show host spot on a show that aired from 2002 to 2008 and a regular movie reviewer job on Whoopi Goldberg's national weekday morning radio show from 2006 to 2008 were all jobs I got on my own because broadcast agents turned me down for representation.

I was usually told that they wouldn't know what to do with me.  But I feel the real rejection was race for reasons I mention in Ed Sikov's article.  To get work like Tom Bergeron has on Dancing With The Stars or like Mo Rocca has on CBS Sunday Morning was difficult. I didn't have representation to get me into those auditions or get me meetings with producers of those shows.  I'm still not signed with agent and I still pursue my own jobs.

If it was that way for me, imagine the frustration that actors of color have after they been in a big box office hit movies or got an Oscar nomination and then don't get any more Hollywood offers.  Imagine when filmmakers of color can't get a green light for their project or, if they do, can't get their project marketed and promoted.  In 2008, a veteran agent with the NYC branch of Abrams Artists Agency contacted me to come in the following week for a meeting.  I was doing Whoopi's early morning radio show and the Food Network show I hosted aired in repeats Monday through Friday in the late morning.  The agent, bless her heart, opened our afternoon meeting by asking if I'd ever done any on-camera TV host work.  She'd never looked at my headshot/resum√© or demo reel.  She knew nothing about my career.

Who knows more about my career than she did?  This woman.  Cheryl Boone Isaacs, president of the Academy.
I talked about in my interview.  She's definitely making history with her moves to make Hollywood realize its critical need to embrace diversity.
To read the Ed Sikov interview of me, please go here and look for my pic on the upper left hand side:

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