However, at least unconsciously, the networks have already circled their wagons in this era of declining audience share by catering to the one demographic group advertisers care about the most, young whites.
Today, according to a Nielsen-based study compiled by TN Media, the only common thread among the Top 10 prime-time shows for whites, blacks and Latinos is a program Hollywood casting directors had absolutely nothing to do with--ABC's Monday Night Football.
Indeed, things have become much more fragmented in the late-'90s, as cable and upstart broadcast networks focus on niche programming and specialized audiences. Faced with this competition, the big networks now are "narrowcasting" themselves to a white audience to maximize their ad revenue.
Ten years ago, the survey says, the most popular show among nonwhites was NBC's The Cosby Show, a black family show that also happened to be the second most popular among African-Americans.
The most popular show among blacks at that time was the Cosby spin-off A Different World, which also happened to be the seventh most popular program among nonwhites.
Among the Top 10 most watched shows for blacks in those days, nine were on NBC--television was a shared cultural experience, with people of all races tuning in to largely the same programs.
Things have changed.
Now, the most popular show among blacks, the WB's Steve Harvey Show, is only the 127th most popular among whites. And of the Top 10 most watched shows among African-Americans, most are on the fledgling networks---the WB and UPN--who have catered to minorities.
Surprisingly, among the Top 10 shows favored by blacks, none of them belong to NBC, which was fingered by the NAACP as the worst offender.
But call it a business decision for the Peacock, which seems to be doing just fine, even though it has the smallest percentage of minority characters on its series. The top five shows among whites are all on NBC--in fact, it's the network's entire Thursday night lineup: ER, Friends, Frasier, Veronica's Closet and Jesse.
ER is the only one of those with across-the-board appeal, ranking sixth among Latino audiences, 15th among black ones. To see the difference in what white, Latino and black audiences like to watch, look at how the rest of NBC's "Must-See" roster rates: Friends ranks seventh among Latinos and 88th among blacks; Frasier 12th and 90th, respectively; Veronica's Closet, 16th and 81st; and Jesse, 13th and 104th.
And according to the survey, Latino viewers preferred reality-based programs. Fox's Guinness World Records and Wildest Police Videos ranked 1-2.
Here's a rundown of the Top 10 in each category.
1. ER (NBC) 1. Steve Harvey Show (WB) 1. Guinness World Records (Fox) 2. Friends (NBC) 2. Jamie Foxx
Show (WB) 2. Wildest Police Videos (Fox) 3. Frasier (NBC) 3. Monday Night Football (ABC) 3. Monday Night Football (ABC) 4. Veronica's Closet (NBC) 4. For Your Love (WB) 4. Simpsons (Fox) 5. Jesse (NBC) 5. CBS Sunday Night Movie 5. Sabrina the Teenage Witch (ABC) 6. Monday Night Football (ABC) 6. Touched by an Angel (CBS) 6. ER (NBC) 7. NYPD Blue
(ABC) 7. 60 Minutes (CBS) 7. Friends (NBC) 8. Touched by an Angel (CBS) 8. Moesha (UPN) 8. Wonderful World of Disney (ABC) 8.
(tie) 60 Minutes (CBS) 9. Walker Texas Ranger (CBS) 9. X-Files (Fox) 10. CBS Sunday Night Movie 10. Wayans Bros. (WB) 10. Boy Meets World (ABC)
Source: TN Media Inc