A UCLA report finds that household ratings were highest among cable television shows with casts that were 31 percent to 40 percent minority, such as TNT's Falling Skies.
On paper, TNT's "Falling Skies" and The Disney Channel's "A.N.T. Farm" don't have much in common. "Falling Skies" follows humans struggling to survive after a devastating alien invasion. "A.N.T. Farm" is a comedy about a book smart tween with a penchant for breaking into song.
But both are examples of top-performing TV shows with ethnically diverse leads, according to a new study from UCLA's Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies
The center looked at 67 scripted shows on cable and broadcast television during the 2011-2012 television season, and found that shows with larger minority casts posted above-average ratings.
The center's director, Darnell Hunt, said the US population is growing more diverse, "so it stands to reason that the programming it would prefer would also be more diverse."
But Hunt says the entertainment industry hasn't caught on. Minorities represent about 37 percent of the US population, but account for just 15 percent of the lead roles on cable television, and 11 percent of lead roles on broadcast shows.
"There's almost this presumption within the industry diversity is a luxury, that if you focus on diversity you may be creating some type of drag on performance or on quality," Hunt said.
But Hunt, who plans to study future TV seasons, says that diversity may be good for the bottom line.