Category Archives: News

ABC’s Keli Lee in Conversation with Oona King on Diversity in TV [Part 2]

keli lee

Reposted from The GEITF

In the second part of our Q&A with ABC’s Keli Lee, we asked how her casting job works on a day-to-day basis; how she plans to expand her Talent Showcase and whether she can offer any advice to help boost diversity in the UK.

What does the role of executive vice-president casting, ABC, entail?

My role is unusual and unique even in the US in that I manage the casting for the Network and ABC Studios – which produces not only for ABC but for Fox, CBS, cable outlets etc. So the moment there is an idea on the Studio side, we help the producers sell their show, saying, ‘can we attach talent, can we package that show, let’s put together a shortlist’, so that’s on the development side before it’s even pitched to the Network.

On the Network side, any show idea that has an actor attached as a producer or an actor, I’m in those pitches.  So the conversation is, ‘ok this person has this idea, is this the right show for ABC and is this the right character for this person?’ And these are the discussions early on before there’s even a script. Of course, we’re the most involved right before we’re greenlighting some of these scripts, and of course, during pilot season.

So you are the person that decides at the end of the day?

It’s completely collaborative. It’s the vision of the creators and who they have in mind, but we ask whether they can write for this person every week – that’s so important. And then there’s the Studio executives and Network executives  – it’s a conversation and a collaboration but ultimately if the writer feels this is the person they can really write for and is inspired by, we want to support that decision.

But if you don’t think the lead is going to work?

It’s a negotiation…it really comes down to who is the most passionate.

What’s the biggest challenge in making diversity mainstream?

Comedies are harder because if that comedy writer is writing about a personal experience and that writer grew up in the Midwest, they are writing about what they know. That’s a challenge when it comes to adding diversity, especially if it’s about your childhood. If you think about The Goldbergs which is a really fantastic show, Adam Goldberg  is writing about his family and  it’s really hard to say: ‘can your sister be somebody else?’ 

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ABC’s Keli Lee in Conversation with Oona King on Diversity in TV

keli lee

Reposted from The GEITF

Keli Lee, executive vice-president, casting at ABC, was back in the UK by popular demand last week following her appearance at the TV Festival’s diversity session, Minority Report: Is TV Racist?

Her timing couldn’t have been more perfect. As she flew over from LA for our diverse casting event with Creative Skillset, one her shows was taking Twitter by storm. Black-ish, written by Anthony Anderson and starring Laurence Fishburne, achieved ratings which rivalled Modern Family’s opener, and looks set to become the first successful black sitcom on network television in a decade.

Lee casts for all of ABC’s scripted series – currently 37 – with shows such as Lost, Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal among the line-up. With a host of new Autumn shows starring people from ethnically diverse backgrounds, the network is receiving praise for having “the most diverse slate on US television.” (Hollywood Reporter)

How? We asked Baroness Oona King and Channel 4’s diversity exec to find out how Lee operates and what role her diverse casting initiative, something that has run for 13 years, has played in that.

Tell us about your background

I was born in Korea and moved to the US when I was 2-years old and growing up I wanted to assimilate. I wanted to be as American as possible and what is that? It’s television. But it was only when I was working in television that I stopped and asked ‘where’s the diversity? This is not real. How can we make this as real as possible? 

Did you feel like an outsider growing up?

I never felt like I really belonged and I think that’s the way a lot of immigrant families feel as well. Feeling like I didn’t belong made me empathise with so many different kinds of people.

Were your parents disappointed that you moved in to TV?

They still don’t understand what I do. Even when I was vice-president of casting at Disney they asked me when I was going to law school!

How did you get in to TV?

I had a summer job at Caroline’s comedy club – right before Roseanne and Seinfeld were about to get that shows. I was taking reservations and socialising with comedians and thought it was the greatest job in the world. One said ‘what are you doing with a philosophy degree? I’ll introduce you to a casting director at Warner Bros.’ I met her and asked her ‘what is casting?’ I was hired as an intern and my first job was as an assistant on Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven.

Progression at mid-and senior-level is one of the issues in the UK Did you ever experience a glass ceiling?

No I don’t think that’s an issue. And currently our head of network drama, head of studio drama, head of comedy, head of marketing and head of casting are all diverse.

There’s a 360 strategy on the workforce side and a mentoring programme aimed at everyone. But there arecertainly efforts and commitments to find as many diverse people as possible.

Why did you launch the diverse talent showcase?

The conversation I was having with so many producers and industry colleagues was we’re seeing the same diverse talent, where’s the rest. It was an issue of pipeline.

If that’s the issue I thought how do we find talent for you. I’d been to a lot of showcases and sat through them for hours so I created a showcase that lasts an hour, and leaves people wanting more.

The first 2 years we learnt a lot. We initially broke it down into 4 showcases for different ethnic groups but we then combined it into 1 fully diverse showcase. We interviewed 700 diverse actors in New York and 700 in LA. This year, we interviewed 7000 so it really has grown.

We have an ABC casting page, Twitter, Facebook.

What are the mechanics?

I do this in addition to casting for 37 series. When pilot series is over in April/May we release breakdowns for our showcase. We go through submissions and my team select 14-20 in each city.

We give them material which is written by diverse writers – who can have their work showcased to the whole industry – NBC, CBS, Fox, agents, casting directors.. – I keep it open because this is the early stage of their career and I want to give them as many opportunities as possible. ABC is never going to have enough so we need a combined effort.

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Apply for BBC’s Expert Voices: BAME Talent Days


Do you want to share your expertise and knowledge by appearing on television and radio? Are you from a black, Asian or minority ethnic background?

The BBC Academy is holding a series of free introductions to the world of broadcasting to help BAME men and women feel comfortable appearing on television, radio and online as expert contributors or presenters. 

These events will help boost the diversity of experts in the media and follow the acclaimed Expert Women campaign which ran in 2013.

The days will offer a range of practical media experiences, including sessions on camera and in a radio studio as well as masterclasses and networking with experienced programme makers and industry leaders. 

BBC are running five days across the country – while the London date has now passed, there following locations and dates are still open for applications: 

27 November 2014 – Birmingham 

29 January 2015 – Bristol 

26 February 2015 – Salford

12 March 2015 – Glasgow 

For more information on how to apply, click here.

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Tony Hall and the BBC Unveil Plans to Tackle Diversity

tony hall

Reposted from Broadcast


  • £2.1m diversity fund
  • Creation of independent diversity board
  • Leadership and commissioning development schemes
  • Fresh diversity targets

Tony Hall has set out his blueprint for boosting diversity at the BBC, including creating a £2.1m commissioning fund to help ensure the corporation “represents every family and community in the UK”The director general unveiled the package of measures in a speech at Elstree Studios on Friday, where he said “it’s time for action” on diversity. It follows the issue being thrust to the forefront of the broadcasting agenda over the past 12 months.

As well as the £2.1m Diversity Creative Talent Fund, the BBC has created two leadership development programmes, introduced new staff diversity targets and an intern scheme. Hall will also create an independent board to keep the BBC’s progress in check. He has stopped short of introducing Lenny Henry’s proposal to ring-fence a percentage of the BBC’s annual commissioning budget for programmes that hit black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) representation targets. The comedian will, however, be part of the BBC’s Diversity Advisory Group, which also includes Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, Asian Network’s Nihal and footballer Jason Roberts. The panel of experts will monitor the broadcaster’s progress and is to be chaired by Hall.


Diversity fund

Although not a quota, the £2.1m fund – around 0.1% of the BBC’s £1.8bn TV budget – will address BAME portrayal on air. It will help support development of television projects across all genres, fast tracking ideas from diverse writers, talent and production staff. The funding will be re-prioritised from existing BBC budgets and be made available from September.

It is one of Danny Cohen’s biggest contributions to Hall’s diversity blueprint, and the director of television will also support a commissioner development programme, training six “commissioners of the future”. Successful candidates will be paid to complete a 12-month placement, working in genres including comedy, drama and factual. This is in addition to a leadership development programme for another six BAME individuals. They will be offered experience of working at the top of the BBC, collaborating directly with the executive team, which includes Hall and strategy boss James Purnell.

“The ambition is for those selected to become senior leaders in the industry,” the BBC said, adding that they will get training from the “respected” Clore Leadership Development Programme.

At the other end of the scale, the corporation will take on 20 BAME graduate trainee interns through the Creative Access Programme and plans to continue its work with the Stephen Lawrence Trust and the Mama Youth Project.



Hall’s announcement included a commitment to improve BBC HR’s approach to talent recruitment and management to ensure it is “best in class”. The team, led by incoming HR director Valerie Hughes-D’Aeth, will help shepherd a raft of “stretching” new diversity targets. Over the next three years, the BBC wants on air BAME portrayal to increase from 10.4% to 15%. BBC News has also set targets in London, Birmingham, Manchester and Leicester.

Off air, the BBC will aim to increase the proportion of its BAME senior management across television, radio and news divisions from the current level of 8.3% to 10% in 2017 and 15% in 2020. Its target of 14.2% across all staff will be unchanged. While BBC director general Hall admitted that results “won’t be achieved overnight”, he argued the blueprint “will make a tangible difference” and “help set the pace in the media industry”. The BBC’s progress will be reviewed “regularly” to ensure its record is “beyond reproach”, he added.

“The BBC gets much right on diversity, but the simple fact is that we need to do more. I am not content for the BBC to be merely good or above average,” Hall said. “It is something we have to get right. My aim is for the BBC to be the number one destination for talented people regardless of their background. It’s time for action.”

Simon Albury, former RTS boss and chair of the Campaign for Broadcasting Equality, said the package of measures is a “huge step forward”, but questioned the size of the Diversity Creative Talent Fund. “If progress is slower than Tony Hall expects, this is an area where the Independent Diversity Action Group could look to see a significant increase,” he said.

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Youngers Actress Shavani Seth Lands Role in Homeland


Congratualtions to actress Shivani Seth (of Identitiy Drama School) who has landed recurring role in US series Homeland. The actress will appear alongside Clare Danes in series 4 of the hit show. Seth currently appears in in series 2 of E4's music themed drama Youngers

The new series of Homeland is set to premiere in the US in Autumn 2014.

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Sarah-Jane Crawford Confirmed as the Host of The Xtra Factor

sarah jane

Radio 1Xtra DJ Sarah-Jane Crawford has been announced as the new host of The Xtra Factor. She replaces Caroline Flack who has spent the last three years at the helm of the ITV2 show. 

Speaking on the new role, Crawford tweeted:


This follows the news that Mel B will be the fourth judge on the upcoming series of The X Factor sitting alongside Simon Cowell, Cheryl Cole and Louis Walsh. 

Congrats Sarah-Jane! 

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June Sarpong Joins BBC Current Affairs Programme ‘Newsnight’


Reposted from The Telegraph  (by Tim Walker)

While a candidate is yet to be announced to replace Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight following his resignation last month, Mandrake can disclose that Ian Katz’s latest recruit to the BBC’s flagship current affairs show is June Sarpong.

“I’m going to be doing some stuff for Newsnight,” June tells me at the Ubuntu Education Fund’s 15 Year Anniversary Gala dinner at the Roundhouse, Camden. “I’m not replacing Jeremy Paxman before the rumours start. I’m doing specials for them.”

The 36-year-old former T4 presenter has moved back to Britain from America ahead of the role. “I got back to London six weeks ago,” she explains. “I’ve gone from Sunday morning television to Newsnight, but you know we’ve all got to grow up, it’s all highbrow now.”

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Marianne Baptiste to Join Cast of ITV’s Broadchurch


Reposted from The Guardian 

Golden Globe winner and Oscar-nominated actor Marianne Jean-Baptiste is joining the second series of hit ITV drama Broadchurch.

Jean-Baptiste, who starred in CBS television series Without a Trace, Mike Leigh's Secrets and Lies, The Murder of Stephen Lawrence and this year's remake of the film RoboCop, is to play a role written especially for her by Broadchurch writer and creator Chris Chibnall.

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Idris Elba Lands Development Deal with Shine North


Reposted from Televisual

Shine North and Green Door, the production company set up by actor and producer Idris Elba, have signed a co-production deal to develop factual programming.  The agreement follows the collaboration with Elba on Idris Elba: King of Speed. The Shine North/Shine TV co-production premiered on BBC2 in December 2013 and has sold to over 100 territories globally.

The deal sees Shine North and Green Door working together to develop and produce factual programmes for the UK and international market, with Elba in producer and presenter capacities and drawing on additional expertise from within Shine Group as relevant. Shine International will distribute projects internationally.

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