News

Use Cable to Open A Window on America

6/20/2011 12:01 AM Eastern

Like many kids who grew
up in the pre-Internet and
pre-social-media age, television
was the center of my
childhood media universe
and my primary window on
the larger world beyond my
house and the community in
which I lived.

As the child of divorced parents
who worked full time, I
spent a lot of time in front of
the TV set — not only for entertainment
and information, but
also to explore what was possible,
to see what the rest of the
country looked like, and to get
a glimpse of what I might aspire
to as an adult. Television
had a tremendous impact on
my life.

I am sure I was not the only
chi ld who came away from
those hours on the sofa in front
of the set aspiring to be one of
the glamorous, famous and exciting
people I saw on TV. But,
for me, the options appeared very limited.

As a Chinese-American and a woman, there were
almost no role models for me on television. The only
person on TV who looked like me was Connie Chung.
She was my hero. It’s because of her that I became interested
in and pursued a career in broadcast journalism,
and I am incredibly grateful for the inspiration
she provided, and for what her hard work, dedication
and struggle made possible for those of who followed.

At the same time, it is eye-opening now to look back
and realize what an obscured picture television at the
time presented of our world and the diverse nature of
our country. For minorities, women and people living
outside of the mainstream of our culture, the options
that television presented us, whether in news
media or on scripted programs, were few and far between.
What Hispanic girl or African-American boy
would aspire to be a news anchor, a sportscaster, an
actor or even a doctor, if the message they receive is
that those roles are not open to adults who look like
them or who do not live where they live?

The diversity that makes America strong and interesting,
and the stories of minorities and women,
were largely missing from the primary source most
of us, young and old, used to get information and to
inform our views. Fortunately,
in the last couple of decades,
that’s begun to change in dramatic
ways.

Kids and adults tuning into
television today can see Ann
Curry taking over as co-host
of Today, Whoopi Goldberg on
The View, George Lopez hosting
a late-night talk show,
Oprah Winfrey launching her
own network, and scripted
dramas and comedies led by
women and minority characters.
It is extremely encouraging.

That being said, we have a
way to go before the picture
we present to our kids on television
is a fully accurate representation
of the diverse
country we live in, and we in
cable — as viewers increasingly
spend their viewing time
with us — have both a tremendous
opportunity and an important
responsibility to take
the lead in helping achieve that goal.

That is one of the motivations behind my series Our
America With Lisa Ling
on OWN to put a spotlight on
and challenge viewers to understand different perspectives,
ask them to question some of the assumptions
they have about what is true in our country, and
inspire them to have compassion for people different
from themselves who they normally don’t think
about.

Even in the age of ubiquitous broadband and mobile
devices, television continues to be one of the primary
mediums that informs our opinions, shapes our
attitudes and provides our children with role models
and dreams for what they can achieve. As the people
who decide what pictures, stories and characters
television presents, let’s make sure our channels refl
ect the full diversity of our country — so a Chinese-
American girl growing up today can still choose to
follow in the footsteps of Connie Chung as a broadcast
journalist, but she chooses to do so knowing
from examples that it is just one of many opportunities
available to her.


Lisa Ling is an executive producer and host of Our
America With Lisa Ling on OWN.
September