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The race reversal cuts both ways. City's creative team cut most of a scene where a drunk hospital administrator (Garrett Morris) goes to the morgue to take his picture with the nude corpse of an R. and B. singer, fearing that it might tar black men as drunks. "If we were casting Tim Conway, it wouldn't be a racial issue," says executive story editor Dianne Houston.
Even if City does well, the reward for other minorities is unclear. What progress there has been in the industry has tended mostly to benefit blacks, to the frustration of groups like the National Hispanic Media Coalition. "Diversity does not mean blacks alone," says board member Marta Garcia. But one bright spot, for Latinos at least, is Resurrection Boulevard, a drama about four generations of a Latino family of boxers, scheduled to start on Showtime this summer. "This would not have sold to the networks," says creator Dennis Leoni. "Even big shots like Edward James Olmos haven't been able to get Latino shows on the air." That may be beginning to change; CBS has Latino filmmaker Gregory Nava (Selena) developing a series for next season.
All the minority writers to whom the networks have, post-N.A.A.C.P., been offering development deals will probably be watching City's fortunes and CBS's patience. Pointing to good ratings for recent TV movies featuring African Americans, CBS Television president Les Moonves says, "We don't need an instant 20 share to be able to let [City] survive" in its uncompetitive 8 p.m. time slot. But they will need both white and minority viewers to thrive and create the kind of cross-cultural exchange City aims at. In the second episode, a white resident panics when an African-American girl shows up with a gray efflorescence on her legs. A black pediatrician shows him the miracle cure: Vaseline. The girl has ash--a mundane dry-skin condition--and tells him, "It's a black thing." You may remember the second part of that catchphrase: "You wouldn't understand." That makes a good T shirt but not good Nielsens (or race relations). For City's crew and would-be successors, a lot rides on making viewers of all colors understand--or, at least, want to.
--With reporting by Jeanne McDowell/Los Angeles