Congresswoman Maxine Waters rips into NBC Universal's Jeff Zucker over lack of diversity
Fiery Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) took NBC Universal Chief Executive Jeff Zucker to task for the lack of African American actors and shows on NBC.
In a hearing held by the House Judiciary Committee on the proposed $30-billion marriage between cable giant Comcast and NBC Universal, Waters used her time to question Zucker about why the network has not done better in creating shows that would appeal to the black community.
"Is there some assumption that black programming is not profitable?" Waters asked Zucker. "Not at all," he replied. Why then, she wondered, are there no shows on NBC aimed specifically at black viewers? She noted that Tyler Perry has created very successful movies and TV shows.
Zucker tried to point out that the network had a history of successful black shows, but Waters wasn't up for a trip down memory lane.
"That was then and now is now," she said, adding, "Black viewers deserve the kind of content they feel good about. ... I don't understand why you don't pursue it and why you don't do it."
Waters pressed Zucker to do a better job on reaching out to African Americans and then asked Jean Prewitt, president of the Independent Film & Television Alliance who was testifying against the Comcast-NBC Universal deal, whether her group could help Zucker out so "they are not sitting here in 2010 with no black programs."
Prewitt said that was possible but that the network would have to "sit on its hands" when it came time to negotiate deals.
Programming from diverse sources was one of the subplots of this hearing. Although much of the discussion was similar to hearings held earlier this month, there was also a heavy focus on how media consolidation has made it tough for independent producers to get shows on broadcast and cable television.
Zucker, whose NBC network is struggling in the ratings, kept saying he was interested in quality shows and didn't care where they came from.
Waters said she'd be willing to "call all my friends in the industry and set up a meeting with you."
Coming to Zucker's rescue later in the hearing was Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), who mentioned Al Roker's prominence on NBC. That gave Zucker a chance to mention Bryant Gumbel's role on "Today" and Lester Holt's role with MSNBC.
"I think we've done a good job. It'll never be perfect," Zucker said to Cohen.
-- Joe Flint
Photo: Maxine Waters in October. Credit: Charles Dharapak / Associated Press