TV

Creator Smackdown

Last week, headlines were made when two of TV's most notable showrunners, Shonda Rhimes and Amy Sherman-Palladino, got into a feud over the latter's new series "Bunheads" (ABC Family, 9 p.m.)

Rhimes, who is black, criticized the new series for having no characters of color featured on it. She said there was no one on the cast for her daughter to identify with.

In response, Sherman-Palladino said she was disappointed in Rhimes' comments and believes women showrunners (a small group, to be sure) shouldn't criticize each other.

I can't say I have a rooting interest in this flare-up. Rhimes always has very diverse casts on all her series ("Grey's Anatomy," "Private Practice," "Scandal") and from the bits I've seen, it's not done just to have token characters.

But for Sherman-Palladino to stick a person of color on her series just to have a person of color smacks of tokenism, and doesn't seem to advance the cause of minorities very much. I don't know why she made the casting choices she made -- perhaps, in this case, the actors she chose were simply the best choices. Or, perhaps, the network had a major say in who was cast.

But I don't agree with Sherman-Palladino's response, either. Using the sorority of female showrunners as a defense comes off as weak. Certainly, if two males were having a dispute, one wouldn't say that male showrunners ought to stick together.

Diversity issues beyond the number of actors of color have been at the forefront for different reasons. For example, dwarf actors are complaining about the new movie, "Snow White and the Huntsman" for casting regular-sized actors in the dwarf roles. There were similar complaints among handicapped actors when "Glee" came out and a non-handicapped actor was cast as Artie, the wheelchair-bound glee club member.

The current issue of Entertainment Weekly looks at real-life gay actors in Hollywood, many of whom are in straight roles, such as Neil Patrick Harris on "HIMYM" and Matt Bomer on "White Collar." There's no straight actors complaining that they lost out on those roles, nor do you hear gay actors complaining when a straight actor in real life plays a gay character.

Nor do you hear too many complaints when it comes to casting an actor for a certain religion or nationality, unless the actor doesn't do well in his performance.

For me, the question is, how does the actor fare in the role? Just as important, is it relevant to the material if the actor is black or white, or of some other persuasion?

For me, I think a good example of diversity on a show is something along the lines of "Homicide," which had a broad range represented. Sometimes, race would be a part of a storyline, and the writers did a good job in showing how those characters would react.

Gene Roddenberry wanted to show a future in which humanity was united, so he went with a diverse cast when he created "Star Trek." In fact, the one group he didn't represent during the Cold War 1960s was Russians, and when a fan called him on it, he agreed and added a Russian crew member for the second season, because it made sense drama-wise to do so.

Years later, the "Trek" spinoffs "DS9" and "Voyager" had a black and female captains, respectively. From a dramatic standpoint, it made no difference because in the future that was being shown, true diversity had been achieved. But from our societal point of view, it made a big difference to see the actors who had been cast take the lead on a "Trek" show.

Having a token character on a show just to create the appearance of diversity doesn't do very much to advance that cause.

MONDAY'S BEST BETS: "Bunheads" follows a new "Secret Life of an American Teenager" at 8 p.m. on ABC Family.

Also on cable, SyFy has new episodes of "Eureka" and "Lost Girl" from 9-11 p.m., while MTV has a new "Teen Wolf" at 10 p.m.

On the networks, ABC has two hours of "The Bachelorette," followed by "Glass House," while NBC gears up for the Olympics with the US Olympics swimming trials at 8 p.m.

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