The Plain Dealer: April 26, 1983
by William Hickey

 

Terry Carter, whom viewers will remember for his portrayals cf "Sgt. Joe Broadhurst" in McCloud and "Col. TIgh" in Battlestar Galactica, was here last week huddling with leaders of the black community to raise funds for a pilot of a projected television series.

Of particular interest to me was Carter's motivation for launching such a project, which would correct, if only in a small way, the woeful under-representation of blacks on television.

Carter, a handsome and articulate man with three decades of acting experience, explained the plight of black actors, that of being nearly unable to find work of any kind, especially in meaningful roles. He said:

"The black actor is once again being excluded from television and, for that matter, feature films as well. The advances made during the 1970s have not only been brought to a standstill but actually pushed back. I'm afraid the 'Sounder' cycle Is over, even the 'Heat of the Night' cycle.

"I've just come from meeting leaders of the Cleveland black community. There were lawyers, doctors, judges, educators and others who have been very successful in the world of business and finance, persons who never will be represented on television if things continue the way they are.

"It truly saddens me that black children growing up in the ghettos do not have a chance to see on television positive role models such as the men and women I met today. If they see any black at all it is usually a jive-talking dude who's playing on the wrong side of the law.

"Just think how this country would benefit if those kids in the ghetto could be made to understand that there is a way out of poverty other than sports, that there is another way of getting their piece of the American pie. If they did, just think how many would be dissuaded from a life of crime.

"It might sound farfetched, but I know that if black kids saw black lawyers, doctors and what have you on television, and saw them in representative numbers and not token ones, they would come to believe in the American dream as much as the more fortunate middle-class blacks do."

Carter considers himself one of the more fortunate blacks of his generation. He came from a middle-class family that stressed the importance of education and making one's way in mainstream America. He planned to enter law school but was bitten by the acting bug and never recovered.

"Though I'll always consider myself an actor first, it's a good thing I have other things going," he said. "I have worked exactly two weeks as an actor since Galactica went off the tube, and that was in 1980. If I didn't have my production company Meta-4, I don't know what I would have done to support myself.

"Of course, I'm only one among a great number of black actors who can't find work in television or feature films. Someone told me that only a dozen black actors made more than 50,000 last year, and that sounds about right from what I hear on the streets of Hollywood.

"I know there are thousands of white actors, talented ones, who can't find work either. I sympathize with them, but at the same time, they can't complain about being under-represented in films and television."

Asked why he had chosen Cleveland to be the setting of a series, he said.

"That's easy. My associate producer Tom Hughes is from Cleveland and he told me the city perfect for the kind of series we intended to do. It focuses on a black lawyer who dedicates himself to protecting the rights of children. When I first planned the series, I had Boston in mind, but Tom talked me out of it. Tom, by the way, is white."

Did his creation of a character who Is a lawyer have anything to do with his one time ambition?

"It sure did," he said and laughed. "If I can't be a real attorney, I'll be one on television. The series, if we ever sell it to a network or whatever, is going to be called Letter of the Law and the main character is a man named John Paul Letter.

"If we can interest a network or a paycable system, we'll cover our bets by producing the pilot as a feature film. That way we will have a better chance to recoup the money invested. However, we have our sights set on it being a series on television for all the previous stated reasons."

Since positive role models for black children are almost non-existent, the leaders of the black community here have an opportunity to help in righting a wrong, even if only partially. More to the point, they couldn't have found a more talented or better man than Terry Carter to lead the way.