A long time ago, I heard a TV critic talk about how most media follows society, they do not lead it.
What that means, is because outlets such as television depend on the purchase of advertisements, they must offer content that both the advertiser AND the viewer find compelling and appropriate. And you can guess how particular the CEOs of companies such as McDonald's and Coke are about the value of their brand name.
Movies -- and, in the same vein, subscription cable channels such as HBO -- only need to draw viewers. So they can jump ahead of society's mores to offer images that the masses might not yet be ready to consume.
Why am I talking about all this now? Because it comes to mind as I consider the flood of stories this week -- started by a scoop right here on HuffPo -- saying David Gregory is poised to succeed Tim Russert as host of NBC's venerated Sunday politics show Meet the Press.
As many media bloggers have already snarked, the decision meant NBC turned away from hiring a female moderator or person of color, just as the nation is poised to inaugurate its first non-white President and an administration among the most diverse in history.
It also reminded me of online columnist Richard Prince's coverage of Barack Obama's press conference Monday, where the national security team he assembled had more ethnic diversity than the press corps asking questions. It wasn't until Wednesday that Obama finally called on a journalist of color to pose a question during a press conference (and then, he asked two in a row -- Telemundo Chicago's Vicente Serrano and Fox News' Wendell Goler).
As I noted in a Sunday story, Obama's election puts race on the table with little effort on his part. So TV writers have begun looking at programming schedules lacking in stars of color and wondering why the government officials leading America increasingly look more representative of the country's diversity than the media informing and entertaining it.
The Los Angeles Times' Greg Braxton -- one of my favorite TV reporters for coining the phrase BBF, or Black Best Friend, to describe all the sidekick roles for black folks on network TV -- asked on Sunday Where are TV's Obama-like characters? The meat of the story seems a reiteration of a trend I outlined back in September.
Bill Carter in the New York Times sounded a bit more optimistic, citing a handful of series under development starring or co-starring black actors as evidence TV may be trying to catch up with a post-Obama America, including a televised version of a satirical book, Making Friends With Black People. (see a sample here)
But when I spoke to the book's writer, Nick Adams, last week, he said the Obama tie was more an inspiration for his producing partners, who hoped to use the historic moment as away to convince NBC that a buddy comedy about racial differences between a white guy and a black guy would be successful.
"I always think about how it was handled on a show like Scrubs with the characters Turk and J.D.," said Adams. "They were friends and they knew they could talk to each other like friends. They can speak to each other and be honest with each other. That's kinda what America has lacked for a some time . . . So often, you may have a white person you know from work, and you don't go beyond that causal interaction. Hopefully, we can try to get beyond that . . . really mine the humor of race."
I hope Nick is right. Because it's long past time for the TV suits to catch up with the rest of us on this one. For more discussion on this kind of stuff, check out my own blog, The Feed, here.