LOS ANGELES - Television series feature largely white casts even when the setting is an ethnically diverse city such as Los Angeles or New York, according to a study released Tuesday.
An analysis of shows on the six major networks found a drop in Hispanic and other minority lead characters, according to the Chicano Studies Research Center at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Television is presenting a distorted microcosm of society that is "at odds with our nation's changing demographic," study co-authors Chon Noriega, the center director, and Alison Hoffman said in a statement.
While Los Angeles County's population is nearly 45 percent Hispanic, Hispanics accounted for only 14 percent of characters seen regularly on the eight 2004 primetime series set in Los Angeles, Hoffman said.
All those characters were on one series, the ABC sitcom "George Lopez."
There were no Asian-American regular characters, the study found, although the ethnic group makes up 12 percent of Los Angeles County's population.
Among the 16 shows set in New York, Hispanics and Asian-Americans made up a combined 9 percent of regular characters, researchers found - while the city's population is 27 percent Hispanic and nearly 10 percent Asian-American.
Series set in ethnically diverse cities but found by the study to have all-white casts included "8 Simple Rules" (Detroit); "Still Standing" (Chicago); "Joey" (Los Angeles); "Tru Calling" (New York) and "The O.C." (Orange County).
Eighty-five percent of all series excluded Hispanics from among regular characters.
Hispanic characters were included in more primetime genres in 2004 but their overall numbers dropped slightly when compared to past years: 4.1 percent in 2003 and 4.2 percent in 2002.
Of the U.S. population, Hispanics make up more than 13 percent.
Regularly appearing Hispanic characters were more marginal than in years past, reduced to sidekicks and ensemble players on white- and black-themed series, researchers found.
The study also showed an overall decline in the total number and percentage of black, Asian-American and Native American regular characters.
On reality shows, white male hosts are the standard, the study found. "The Next Great Champ," which aired on Fox before moving to Fox Sports Net, had the sole Hispanic host with boxer Oscar De La Hoya.
All the networks - ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, UPN and WB - fell short of demographic representation, although ABC "shows promise" with its roster of Hispanic characters, according to the study.
Network Web sites and title credits were used to identify a cast's ethnic breakdown.
"If we have missed any regular characters, the fault could lie with a network's failure to promote the presence of its nonwhite regulars," the report said, adding its numbers probably erred on the high rather than low side.
In contrast to the UCLA study, a coalition of civil rights groups said recently it found measurable improvement at some networks in the hiring of Hispanic actors as well as directors and producers.
"We've had five years of doing this and we can see the trend is upward, always upward, but slowly," Alex Nogales, president of the National Hispanic Media Coalition which is part of the multiethnic coalition, said in November.
The networks have repeatedly said they are making serious efforts to create more industry diversity.