TORONTO (Hollywood Reporter) - The latest front in the four major U.S. networks' push for more racial and ethnic diversity in primetime: Canada.
NBC, CBS, ABC and Fox were in Toronto this week for a two-day open casting call for actors from visible minorities to appear mostly as day players on network series produced in Canada.
Kelly Edwards, vp of talent development and diversity at NBC Universal, said the studio three years ago first noticed shows like "Psych" and "Eureka" shot in Vancouver had too few non-white faces. "We went up, we did our thing, and didn't connect with communities back home," Edwards said.
The networks will next travel in September to Vancouver, the shooting home for series like "Fringe," "V" and "Smallville," to find actors from the East Indian, African-American, First Nation, Asian and Latino communities for local shoots.
The four networks will share their lists of minority talent uncovered in Canada, including headshots and video introductions, as they jointly push for a more multicolor primetime TV screen.
"This is the one area (diversity) where we all want to come together," Tiffany Smith-Anoa'I, CBS vp of diversity and communications, said of the major networks otherwise in cutthroat competition for TV ratings.
Janice Tanaka, a diversity consultant for Fox Television, said the push for primetime diversity stems in part because 20th Century Fox produces some series here, including the upcoming CIA drama "Chaos" for CBS set to shoot in Vancouver. But fostering racial and ethnic diversity also falls under good government relations at Fox. "Sometimes it's about trying to defend Fox News," Tanaka added.
Greater diversity on and off screen throws up its own logistical challenges. Placing minority directors on network series sets is especially difficult in an industry built on relationships and where, unlike writers or lead actors, directors aren't guaranteed 22 episodes per season.
Network tactics also differ. Frank Bennett Gonzalez, Disney/ABC TV's director of talent development and diversity, said his studio frowns on emerging directors or writers from diverse backgrounds shadowing an established director.
"The aim is to get people jobs, rather than have them shadow on set, and not end up with work" that could build and sustain a career, he explained.
So Disney/ABC started a program where 16 minority scribes rotate around four series' writer rooms, including "Brothers and Sisters" and "Desperate Housewives," to see which survive through a process of elimination. "If they gel, they go to the next show. If they clash, they're knocked out," Gonzalez said.
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