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TV Notes: Networks' initiatives include hiring executive for diversity

Saturday, February 05, 2000

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Nailing down their best "contract" thus far with major television networks, a national coalition of minority activists led by the NAACP has signed documents with Fox Broadcasting Co. and CBS that committed the corporations, among other initiatives, to hiring a vice president of diversity.

In both cases, the new executive would report directly to the head of the network and would serve as an ombudsman between the network and the coalition, which includes leaders of the American Indian, black, Asian Pacific and Latino communities.

The two agreements were announced at separate news conferences, six months after the coalition began negotiating with network heads for diversity initiatives.

Before signing the documents and clasping hands with the network chiefs, Latino coalition leader Esteban Torres called the agreements "the Magna Carta" of television, and Kweisi Mfume, another coalition co-chair and president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, called it a "constitution for real and meaningful change."

Last month, ABC and NBC offered their own "memorandum of understanding" to the coalition that included training programs for minority writers and pledges to increase business to minority vendors. But ABC and NBC insist the concept of appointing a vice president of diversity remains only under consideration.

Through a "biannual review," the coalition will keep tabs on diversity initiatives at Fox and CBS.

Fox Entertainment president Doug Herzog said he would "scour the country" for the perfect candidate for the vice president post as well as take input from the coalition. But neither Herzog nor Mfume would give a timetable more specific than "sooner rather than later" of when the individual might be hired.

Another promising but open-ended item in the Fox agreement was a pledge to consider the new diversity plan when "filling the next board of directors seat or in any board restructuring."

In addition, Fox will underwrite a minority writers' program with the goal of "placing a minority writer on every Fox network production," the agreement said.

According to the CBS agreement, an outreach program will be implemented by June 30 to identify and develop new on-camera and behind-the-scenes talent.

NEW PBS LEADER: It won't be official until Monday, but PBS is about to name the first female president in its 31-year history.

Pat Mitchell, a veteran of ABC, CBS and NBC and current president of CNN Productions and Time Inc. Television, is expected to be recommended to the PBS board at its meeting this weekend in Key Largo, Fla., say PBS insiders.

The 56-year-old Georgia native would replace embattled Ervin Duggan. He resigned Oct. 31 after a stormy five-year tenure during which it was revealed that the public network sold subscriber lists to political parties.

Mitchell joined Atlanta's Turner Broadcasting Company in December 1992 as senior vice president of TBS Productions. Prior to that she was at VU Productions, an independent production company in L.A.

Five years later, she was promoted to her present post, in which she develops original nonfiction programming for CNN and other Turner and Time-Warner networks.

As CEO-president of PBS, based in Alexandria, Va., she would oversee 348 member stations.

Mitchell holds the rare distinction of hitting the Big 3 trifecta. In addition to working at NBC, she was an arts correspondent for "CBS News Sunday Morning" and a producer-reporter for ABC's "Home" show.

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