Why The Whitewashing of Daytime Television is Helping to Destroy It
Former The Young and the Restless star Victoria Rowell has taken her campaign to see more diversity in front and behind the cameras of daytime to the mainstream, with an official blog on The Huffington Post:
During my tenure at Y&R, I campaigned hard to close multiple disparities and was met with tremendous pushback. Though I repeatedly consulted with non-black staff writers, selecting music and providing choreography, I was never given credit or compensation. I introduced stories ranging from classical ballet to foster care and adoption which received Congressional recognition while being asked to leave price tags in my Y&R wardrobe. The African American cast has won Emmys, dozens of NAACP Image Awards and various accolades for The Young and the Restless yet they continue to be marginalized and pushed to the periphery. When my representative requested Y&R consider me as a writer/director for the show, a courtesy afforded previously to many Anglo actors in daytime, such as Susan Flannery, Meg Bennet, Ellen Wheeler, Courtney Simon, Douglas Marland, and Christopher Gotman, the response from Sr. VP of CBS Daytime Television Barbara Bloom was, "We've never done that before."
You would think if Y&R's brass truly wanted to counteract some of Rowell's allegations they would at least write storylines for Kristoff St. John, Darius "I's Just Happy To Be Here, Boss" McCrary and Julia Pace-Mitchell, but nothing, nada zilch. All they do is start story threads, then drop them for weeks at a time. Long gone are the days when the late Bill Bell kept The REAL Malcolm (Shemar Moore), Dru (Rowell), Neil (St. John), Liv (Tonya Lee Williams) and Nathan (various actors) in storylines just as riveting as those afforded Victor (Eric Braeden), Nikki (Melody Thomas Scott) and Jack (Peter Bergman). Who knew Lynn Marie Latham would do better by the Winters family than the current regime? If we only knew then, what we know now.
Maria Arena Bell can sigh about this and wish it would go away all she wants, but the proof is on our screens. Her first six months on Y&R we cheered her on for rebuilding the Newmans, Abbotts and Chancellors, yet the Winters stayed closed for renovations. The only black character MAB writes for is Lily (Christel Khalil, whom I met at the last Daytime Emmys and found to be a charming young lady) and I double dog dare MAB to give an interview and say otherwise. The only way we will get a storyline for Neil is if Turner Classic Movies puts on Imitation of Life.
I know there are some Y&R fans who question Rowell's tactics, but there are many others who cheer her on every day. I admit, I myself have questioned if discussing her oft sordid history with The Young and the Restless on Twitter is the right venue, but in the end, I say kudos to Rowell for fighting the good fight—however she chooses to do so. My grandmother used to say a closed mouth don't get fed. Plus, she managed to get Arianna Huffington's attention so she must be doing something right.
I'm just glad someone from the trenches is speaking out about the lack of diversity in daytime, and not just when it's en vogue to do so. I can't count the times I've heard "soap opera writing is very labor intensive and a hard craft to learn." What the hell is that supposed to mean? A black man can be the president and a black woman can be on the cover of this month's Fortune, but we can't sit down with a composition notebook and write down the main plot points of That Hamilton Woman, to be recycled in Genoa City like MAB does? It don't look too tough to me.
I was only kidding about the last part. Of course it's difficult to churn out an hour of TV (half hour in B&B's case) five-days-a-week, but to sit up and act like only three or four qualified black writers have pitched themselves in 70 plus years is downright insulting, and a bold-faced lie. Come to think of it, are there any Latino writers in daytime? I sure can't think of any. If y'all know of one, write his or her name in the comments!
I fully believe daytime's de-evolution in terms of diversity is helping to destroy it. Agnes Nixon didn't shy away from telling a story about a black woman passing for white and dating a white man on One Life to Live in 1968, or having her lead heroine protest the Vietnam War on All My Children in 1970, yet One Life to Life had to get rid of Kish because their storyline didn't resonate with "Mainstream America". Tea Delgado (Florencia Lozano), Nora (Hillary B. Smith) and Destiny (Shenell Edmonds) better look over their shoulders, because the next time a group of hatemongering bigots write in, I guess they could get shipped off to that "other side of town".
Why are daytime and Madison Avenue going after the lowest common denominator anyway? Hello, I don't think Bravo or A&E have had any trouble selling WASH IT! Brand Feminine and Masculine Hygiene Products, and they put on plenty of people who run afoul of what "Mainstream America" wants to see. If the bigots don't wanna watch people of color and gays, then hell, stop writing down to their ignorant asses! Maybe, I dunno, it's time to retire the evil twin, the return from the dead, gun shot-induced amnesia and all the things people liked when they had lower incomes and didn't know any better?
Why not start benchmarking from shows like Mad Men, Nurse Jackie or at least the glitzy, addictive trash of the Real Housewives franchise? I can relate to a diva, with a spending problem flipping a table in a Chinchilla coat, but I'm sorry, I simply cannot relate to someone being drugged to fake his or her death or having an evil lookalike anymore. I can't. I just can't. Well, I never could, but like I said, I was broke back then and didn't know any better.
My point is, you cannot keep blaming just the economy for daytime's woes when writers keeps telling the same asinine stories over and over again, all the while worrying about "evil bloggers" spoiling their precious "you'll NEVER guess" moments. Sidenote: Any FOOL who has watched a soap for five minutes, let alone five years knew good and doggone well Tea on OLTL and Chance on Y&R were alive, GTFOH! I don't see the creators of Glee blaming primetime spoilers for any ratings problems (not that they're having any). Don't hang that hat on our heads. If you write better stories, it won't matter if they're spoiled. How many True Blood spoiler sites are out there? DC's Jillian Bowe reads them all, yet still watches every week when it's on and will cuss you out if you call during HBO's Vamp Opera.
Getting back to the subject at hand, I never thought I would be writing this, but kudos to Julie Hanan Caruthers, David Kreizman and Donna Swajeski, because AMC is the only soap on the air with a gay character on contract and even featuring people of color in storylines of any real merit. How sad is it, that when all of daytime is in a state of terror because a black woman—Oprah Winfrey—is leaving the airwaves, the daytime soap operas are whitewashing their canvases?
This is the very reason why I support webisoaps like Anacostia, Buppies and The Bay. They may be shot on shoestring budgets and have the occasional sound or editing snafu, but at least they are giving us scripted, continuing drama that people of all ethnicities and sexualities can relate to. No soap on daytime would have ever premiered with Martha Madison in love with a black man.
If Brian Frons, Ken Corday and Barbara Bloom expect anyone to believe they are even a fraction serious about keeping the soaps still in production on the air, they will finally start to address the lack of diversity on these shows and behind the scenes. If they don't, they'll have no one to blame but themselves when there are seven hours of The Today Show on NBC, Tori Spelling is having her vaginal rejuvenation live on ABC and Julie Chen's The Talk is spun off with men, featuring Gilbert Gottfried in The Conversation on CBS. Or maybe that's what they're all hoping for?