More Americans Than Ever Prefer TV Shows With Diverse Casts, UCLA Study Finds

A Hollywood diversity report conducted by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) found U.S. audiences favor TV shows that reflect the country's racial and ethnic diversity.

"People basically want to see the TV shows that look like America, that have characters they can relate to and have experiences that resonate with them," said Darnell Hunt, dean of the school's social sciences division who co-wrote the report.

Hunt said the biggest takeaway from the report is "the mounting evidence for how important diversity is to today's audience."

Across streaming, broadcast and cable platforms, viewership peaked when a show had a "majority-minority cast," the report indicated.

The audience's enthusiasm for persons-of-color (POC) representation has reflected the increasing diversity within the U.S. population.

Before UCLA issued its first diversity record in 2010, a U.S. Census said 63.7 percent of the population were white. The 2020 Census figure has since reported that 58 percent of Americans are white, the lowest percentage on record.

Even despite the pandemic that stymied Hollywood production, there were varying measures of growth in hiring people of color and women in on- and off-camera jobs, researchers said in the study.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Robin Thede and Issa Rae
FILE - Robin Thede, right, the creator, star and executive producer of the HBO comedy series "A Black Lady Sketch Show," and executive producer Issa Rae pose together for a portrait during the 2019 Television Critics Association Summer Press Tour in Beverly Hills, Calif., on July 24, 2019. Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP, File

For all households including whites, for example, median ratings were highest for scripted broadcast shows in which people of color were between 31 percent and 40 percent of the credited writers, the study found.

For white, Latino and Asian American homes, median ratings peaked for scripted cable shows whose casts were from 41 percent to 50 percent people of color, while Black household ratings were highest for shows with "majority-minority casts," the report said.

People of color fell short of parity in lead acting roles on all platforms. But for the first time in the report's history, overall cast diversity on scripted broadcast TV was slightly higher than in the general U.S. population (just under 43 percent ethnic and racial groups).

While actors of color also came close to "proportionate representation" in cable and streaming, most of the gains could be attributed to the increasing share of Black and multiracial roles, researchers found.

Asian Americans — the country's fastest-growing group — and Latinos remain underrepresented, while Native Americans are "virtually invisible," the report said.

As study co-author Ana-Christina Ramón sees it, the problem lies partly with the industry's white monolith of network and studio executives who tend to view those ethnicities "very niche."

"I think they oftentimes think of stories from Latinx creators and Asian American creators as something really quite peripheral.... and not appealing to the quote-unquote mainstream," she said.

Hunt also cites "unimaginative" executive-suite decisions that reduce diversity to a choice between Black or white hires which he said underscores the need for other ethnic groups to fill decision-making roles.

The study examined a total of 461 scripted shows across all platforms to determine the employment inroads made by women and people of color as actors, writers, directors and series creators.

Generally, there was an increase in racial diversity in nearly all the job categories, with representation among women improving in roughly half of them. Compared to the previous UCLA report, more people of color were credited writers across all of TV, with the percentage on broadcast episodes increasing from 23.4 percent to 26.4 percent; on cable, from 25.8 percent to 28.6 percent; on streaming, from 22.8 percent to 24.2 percent.

According to the study, "most of these gains can be attributed to women of color" — for instance, Robin Thede and her HBO series "A Black Lady Sketch Show." In contrast, men of color increased among broadcast credited writers but "treaded water in cable and digital."

UCLA Diversity Study Graphic AP
Table shows top ten shows on broadcast television and the share of cast by race. Associated Press