The Shonda Rhimes Effect?

The bad news: There are fewer black shows on TV. The good news: Black TV writers are quietly making their way on mainstream network shows. Here are their stories.

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Morgan, on the other hand, sees opportunities in writing for mainstream shows. "A good role is a good role, no matter what," she says. "If the character happens to be on a predominantly black show or a predominantly white show, I don't think it matters. What matters is whether or not it's a role that can showcase talent."

Jacque Edmonds Cofer, a writer for BET's Let's Stay Together and Reed Between the Lines, sees the positive aspects of multiethnic casts but also cautions against complacency on the part of producers and television execs. "The multiethnic casts are a good step toward adequate representation of all ethnicities on TV," she says. "On Treme and Grey's, they have substantial story lines and well-rounded characters. However, multiethnic casting on shows with white leads shouldn't be used as an excuse by networks for not airing shows with majority black or Latino casts, especially when shows like The Game and George Lopez prove that an eager audience and advertisers are waiting for them."

And multiracial casts don't always mean equitable story lines for minority characters. Programs such as Gossip Girl and Vampire Diaries have been criticized for using black and Asian actors as "sight gags," or limiting their presence to stereotypically "dark" roles. In the blog PopWatch for EW.com, Youyoung Lee describes the Asian and black sidekicks on Gossip Girl as "practically mute, ostentatiously dressed and subservient."

David Mainiero of the Dartmouth Independent concurs, explaining that Gossip Girl paints its minority characters "in [an] ancillary, subservient light." Of the WB's Vampire Diaries, Price Peterson, a blogger for TV.com, writes, "Having all the witches be African American is definitely not weird. And having them all perform servitude to rich Southern white people -- definitely not questionable."

Cable, MTV's Closson says, may be the best bet. Cable still offers a more welcome home to programs with all-black casts than the major networks. Consider the following roundup: two sitcoms from Tyler Perry on TBS, plus the Ice Cube-produced Are We There Yet; BET's wildly popular The Game, Let's Stay Together and Reed Between the Lines; and, for what it's worth, Fox's animated series The Cleveland Show. In 2009, HBO aired the critically acclaimed No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, starring Jill Scott, based on the series of novels by Alexander McCall. (The network has yet to air a second series.)

But being black and writing for a "white" network show doesn't mean being pigeonholed, confined to writing lines for the black crook who gets laid out by the police before the first commercial break. The writers surveyed by The Root insist that they are seated at a place of equality at the writers' table, bringing their perspective to bear on complex plotlines and character development. Says Sherman Barrois, who has also written for ER, Third Watch and The Jamie Foxx Show, "[I've] written over 30 produced scripts for television, and I have never been asked to [write only for a black or minority character]."

Getting a Foot in the Door

Aisha Muharrar, a writer for NBC-TV's Parks and Recreation, understands our nostalgic longing for programs that reflected us in authentic characters and situations that brought laughs without compromising our dignity. "I loved watching The Cosby Show, Living Single, Fresh Prince and Family Matters when I was a kid. But so did all my white friends. They were just good shows we all enjoyed. The answer is to make it the norm again so two shows don't have to be the representation for all of black culture."

Muharrar, like Morgan, is part of a batch of young writers getting their start in television. Television writing is competitive. Patterson offers sound advice for those who wish to try their hand at the profession. "Develop your 'voice,' whether it be comedic or dramatic. Challenge yourself to hone your point of view so that you will be unique in the crowded marketplace."

"Apply to all of the diversity programs," Saji says. "I think every studio has one. I came up through the Cosby program and the Disney program. And hone your skills. All the connections in the world mean nothing if your sample is weak."