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As Police Shows Leave TV, Activists Hope Inaccurate Portrayals Of Police Leave, Too

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And we're joined now by Rashad Robinson from Color of Change. Rashad Robinson, thanks so much for joining us once again.

RASHAD ROBINSON: Great to be with you.

MARTIN: Well, some of the programs that you called part of that PR machine for law enforcement were canceled this week. "Cops" and "Live PD" were both reality shows that claimed to show how police work is done. Are you encouraged that this has now finally happened after all these years?

ROBINSON: I guess what I'm encouraged by is that we are entering a new context where, hopefully, we have the ability to set new rules whereas more and more Americans wake up to recognizing systemic racism, I think, is incredibly important. And so then how do you leverage this new found attention, energy to actually forcing the vehicles that shape our narratives to actually take what they now know and make different choices about the content that they put out? And so I'm encouraged that when movements of everyday people demanding something different actually have the power to be able to deliver it.

MARTIN: There was one set of rather eye-catching data in that January report from Color of Change. It was about TV writers' rooms and the racial makeup of the writing staffs of popular police procedurals like "Law And Order: SVU." What does that data show? And in your view, why does that matter?

ROBINSON: Well, it basically showed all-white writers' rooms. I mean, "SVU" not only had a - basically an all-white writers' room but overwhelmingly male. It's about sex crimes in New York City, a very diverse city, as everyone probably knows. And you know, what you end up with is you end up with sort of an all-white writers' room sending justice oftentimes through the mouths of black and brown characters.

The shows, the casts are oftentimes very diverse and representative of the communities that they are sort of in. And so you have these communities where racial diversity exists but racism seems not to exist. And if anyone's watched "Law And Order" or "Chicago P.D." or any of these crime procedural shows - I say this with a smile on my face, but it's kind of sad - you'll see sort of way more black judges on those shows than exist in the real world. And I'm not here to try to take away jobs from those brothers and sisters getting those judge roles on those shows, but you end up with these judge characters that oftentimes have no backstory, no intention, are sort of symbolic sort of gestures at justice.

MARTIN: Now that "Cops" has been canceled after - what? - 33 years on the air and "Live PD's" been canceled, do any of these police procedurals construct reality in a way that you think makes sense or at least is more sophisticated, more real?

ROBINSON: They were definitely shows, like "Seven Seconds" which Regina King won an Emmy for, that I think really delved into policing in a more honest and holistic way. There's shows that got into the impacts of policing in the criminal justice system, like "Orange Is The New Black," which is no longer on the air but actually delved in and showed sort of narratives and stories that we don't normally get to see on TV. And then, you know, there's shows like "How To Get Away With Murder," for instance, that have had really strong episodes in development and actually has a very diverse writers' room, which is I think a hallmark of Shonda Rhimes, the producer and creator of that show, in terms of constructing worlds on-screen that reflect the writers' rooms that she stands up.

MARTIN: OK. So what should still be on the cancel list as far as you're concerned?

ROBINSON: I mean, I'm going to be clear - like, people want to be entertained. They want to watch TV shows. But the cop character is the most overdeveloped character on TV. And so I actually think the "Chicago P.D." and the "Law And Orders" and the - and those shows are deeply problematic. And either they need to go or they need to start doing the work to actually painting a more accurate story about the justice system. If medical shows we're putting out inaccurate information about cancer or HIV and AIDS, we would do all sorts of work to push back because we would say they were dangerous. Either we would get them canceled or we would force these shows to actually do better.

MARTIN: Rashad Robinson is the president of Color of Change. The group's January report on television crime dramas was called Normalizing Injustice: The Dangerous Misrepresentations That Define Television's Scripted Crime Drama (ph).

Rashad Robinson, thanks so much for talking to us once again.

ROBINSON: It's always great being with you. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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