Just finished watching the 12 seasons of The Big Bang Theory, 12 seasons, 279 episodes roughly 5580 minutes if you average 20 minutes per episode. Yet in that 5580 minutes there is less than (I'm guessing) 10 minutes of black people being on screen. I can only think of:

  • The black receptionist in S1E1
  • The black receptionist at the hospital when Howard robotic arm get stuck on his genitalia
  • Glenn (Bernadette's former boyfriend)
  • Janine Davis (HR lady at the University)
  • Neil DeGrasse Tyson
  • Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

So that's effectively no black people in a sitcom that lasted more than 10 years.

The same could be said of Friends and Seinfeld, but equally the same in reverse could be said about the Cosby Show,Living Single or the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

Whilst it could be said that these are the genuine viewpoints of the characters, I don't understand why more of a big deal is not made about this.

Is there a history of Sitcoms being racially segregated and is this legal?

  • 2
    You observations are definitely not wrong, sitcoms often have a target audience. There are interesting articles you can find like this from the Washington Post washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/1994/11/29/…
    – iandotkelly
    Oct 6 '19 at 14:31
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    As far as I know racists describes the opinions of racial hostility that racist people feel. Since a sitcom is not a person a sitcom can not be racist. A sitcom could show the racist attitudes of racists creators. I think that it would have been more accurate for you to ask if the sitcoms you mentioned were "racially segregated" or "racially based" or "racially biased" or something. See TV Tropes like "Humans are White", "Minority Show Ghetto", etc. Oct 6 '19 at 16:32
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    There have been numerous articles on Friends being ridiculously white, even during its run. Hell, the character Charlie Wheeler was basically introduced as a response to such criticism. This is far from a recent insight, despite what many people think.
    – BCdotWEB
    Oct 6 '19 at 17:03
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    I'd like to point out that Raj has been a major cast member since the beginning. He's not Caucasian. (Also, LeVar Burton had a recurring role, as I recall.) Oct 6 '19 at 18:46
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    @Naz, do you have any evidence to support your claim that in 10 years on the air there was never a black editor, script writer, camera operator. sound mixer, etc. associated with this show?
    – krb
    Oct 7 '19 at 10:11

UCLA published a study that covered racial diversity on TV:

Despite quite a bit of progress for [racial minorities] since the previous report, they remained underrepresented on every front in 2015-16:

  • 2 to 1 among broadcast scripted leads (18.7 percent)
  • Nearly 2 to 1 among cable scripted leads (20.2 percent)
  • Nearly 2 to 1 among broadcast reality and other leads (26.6 percent)
  • Nearly 2 to 1 among leads for cable reality and other leads (20.9 percent) [...]
  • Greater than 5 to 1 among the creators of broadcast scripted shows (7.1 percent)
  • Greater than 5 to 1 among the creators of cable scripted shows (7.3 percent)

This covers all people of color, not just black people. Additionally I found the article Black representation in film and TV: The challenges and impact of increasing diversity which gives the numbers for black people specifically, which even notes:

The prominence of certain films and TV series with Black leads obscures the fact that Black actors are still underrepresented on-screen. While their overall representation among film casts is broadly in line with the Black share of the US population (13.4 percent), Black actors play only 11 percent of leading film roles and are often funneled to race-related projects, which typically receive lower investment in both production and promotion.

TBBT, as far as I can tell from IMDb, seems to have even less diversity in actors than your average show. See:

  • List of cast. Janine Davis seems to be the black character who appears in the most episodes
  • Producers. These are the people who make the important decisions for the show. I was not able to look through the entire list (and there are several other lists of important people) but I saw one black producer (and another Japanese-American one).

Neither of these really makes a good case for TBBT's diversity.

The other aspect that's worth considering, though too subjective to be covered by statistics, is the type of roles: How diverse are the roles that these actors are in (as opposed to just stereotypical ones)? Are jokes being made with regard to their race? With TBBT:

  • In a show about nerds, how many characters were black nerds? How many black characters were in a STEM career? (I cannot remember there being any such characters, other than the occasional celebrity like Neil DeGrasse Tyson.)
  • Think about Janine Davis (from the university HR). Race (and gender) played a big role in many of her appearances. But was it good representation? Maybe not, as Sheldon was racist and sexist towards her, but in the end there were no real consequences for his behavior.
  • More broadly, think about Raj. The fact that one of the main characters isn't white is a step in the right direction, but again it's necessary to look at how he's portrayed. Is it the type of portrayal that makes a viewer proud to be Indian, like Raj? Or does it use him being Indian, an "other", as the joke? There are plenty of articles written by people who find Raj to be a problematic character (with race being only one facet).

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