Lily White In La La Land?

HOLLYWOOD, PLEASE TURN the spotlight on thyself. Affirmative action, a much-maligned concept in Newtville-on-the-Potomac, has its own set of problems in Tinseltown, that bastion of tanned knees jerking. Over the past decade, the Writers Guild has set up 11 programs with TV studios to temporarily bring aboard nonwhite or female scriptwriters--in hopes they would be hired as full-fledged staffers later.

The catch: They work for reduced wages. At studios producing sitcoms for CBS, the affirmative-action hires get half the guild's $2,500 weekly minimum. Publicly, most participants say it's a good opportunity. But some grouse they should be hired full-time at a regular salary. Migdia Chinea-Varela, who has written for The Facts of Life, turned down the program, saying the guild is telling her to "sit at the back of the bus." The guild argues that the programs are a good way to expose talent.

Has this push worked? No one tracks how many diversity-program writers have become full-time. But a 1993 Writers Guild study found that minorities make up only 4% of its membership. Even on black-oriented shows, white male writers tend to predominate: Among the 10-member staff at ABC's Hangin' With Mr. Cooper sitcom, only 3 are black.

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