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Latinos says CBS diversity progress is part of new push

Lynn Elber
Associated Press

Latino leaders meeting with top CBS executives last week were braced for a confrontation over a protracted scarcity of Latino actors and stories on the network’s prime-time shows.

“We said, ‘That’s it, no more’ ” in preparing for the encounter, said Alex Nogales of the National Latino Media Coalition.

Instead, the coalition said in a statement Tuesday it found CBS has made “record commitments” to improved representation of Latinos, which Nogales said has galvanized the group to demand more from other networks.

“We’re going to be very militant from here on out. … The next target is Fox,” he said, with a meeting to be requested next week. Letter-writing campaigns and boycotts could be among the tools employed to push broadcasters to act, he said.

Fox didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Nogales said that what he and fellow coalition member Thomas A. Saenz learned from CBS Corp. CEO Leslie Moonves and other CBS executives proves change is possible.

Without releasing specific numbers per its agreement with CBS, the coalition said the network has doubled the number of Latino writers and cast members since 2016; agreed to order scripts from Latinos or with Latino themes, and will hear additional pitches from 10 Latino writers or producers.

One example of a Latino newcomer to CBS: Wilmer Valderrama, who joined the cast of “NCIS” last season as agent Nick Torres.

When he and Saenz left the meeting after seeing more recent, encouraging data, Nogales said, they shared the same thought: “ ‘Man, if we had known we were going to get all these good things, we would have asked for more.’

Saenz is the president of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, while Nogales heads the National Hispanic Media Coalition.

In a statement, CBS called the meeting “very positive” and said it looked forward to continued progress and collaboration.

At a Television Critics Association meeting earlier this month, CBS executives were questioned about other diversity issues: Its new fall shows that are largely topped by male stars, as well as the departure of Asian actors Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park from “Hawaii Five-O” over their reported demands for pay equal to the show’s white stars.

The push for ethnic diversity came after the four major networks, ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC, fielded a fall 1999 slate of new shows with only white stars. The Latino coalition joined with black, Asian-American and American Indian civil rights groups to demand small-screen ethnic diversity.

Change has come in fits in starts, with black actors and producers making bigger strides than other minorities. But in 2015, an Associated Press analysis of regular cast members on prime-time comedies and dramas found casts at three of the four networks were still whiter than the nation as a whole.