The virtually minority-free new prime-time lineup is an "outrage" designed by network executives who are "clueless, careless or both," the leader of the NAACP charged today.

In a stinging speech delivered at the organization's convention in New York City, president Kweisi Mfume charged broadcasters with perpetuating "a virtual whitewash in programming" and threatened to take the four major networks to court.

"We intend to make it clear that the frontier of television must reflect the multiethnic landscape of today's modern society," Mfume said.

The 26 new shows unveiled this spring by ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox looked anything but "multiethnic." Rather, they looked mighty white. (See: Much-hyped--and interchangeable--young-adult dramas, such as Wasteland on ABC; Manchester Prep on Fox; and, Cold Feet on NBC.)

In fact, not one series featured a minority actor in a leading role.

The WB, previously a leading exporter of racially mixed series, also backslid on the diversity scale (canceling shows such as The Wayans Brothers and adding Dawson's Creek-esque fare such as Popular), but escaped the formal wrath of the NAACP.

So did UPN, which actually has scheduled series with mixed casts, including Grown Ups, with ex-Family Matters star Jaleel White.

As for ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox, the NAACP says it may mount a formal legal challenge, accusing the four of violating the Communications Act of 1934--the law that states the airwaves belong to the public and mandates that broadcasters act, accordingly, in the public interest.

In response to the NAACP's attack, NBC said, in a statement, that including minorities in its shows is a "top priority."

It cited by way of example the long-running ER and Law & Order (the only returning Peacock series with minority regulars). It noted that two incoming programs, Third Watch and the Law & Order spinoff, also will feature diverse casts.

"...[But] we realize that there is still work to be done," the network said.

CBS also defended its record, noting that 11 of its 19 series will have minority characters "in a primary role" next fall. The Eyeball is also eyeing Steven Bochco's City of Angels, featuring a mostly black cast, for a January 2000 launch.

Fox said it welcomed the opportunity to discuss the "important goal" of "racial and ethnic diversity" with the NAACP's Mfume.

ABC restated its drive to beef up its shows with black and Latino characters. "We are very sensitive to this issue," the network said.

So far, ABC reportedly has tinkered with the diversity makeup of Wasteland, the new drama from Kevin Williamson (Dawson's Creek). At Fox, the Party of Five spinoff, Time of Your Life, also is said to be undergoing a makeover.

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