Ray Richmond is a contributor to AwardsLine

One of the dirty little secrets that haunts the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences is its woeful (some might even say shameful) track record in honoring African-American actors and actresses with Emmy Awards. Consider that were Giancarlo Esposito of AMC’s Breaking Bad to win this year for supporting actor in a drama series, or the mixed-race Maya Rudolph to take the comedy guest actress prize for NBC’s Saturday Night Live, they would become the first black performers to win in their respective categories ever. Similarly, if Don Cheadle triumphs in the lead actor in a comedy race for his work in the Showtime half-hour House of Lies, he’d become only the second African-American in history to win in that category.

In fact, the four lead comedy actor/actress and supporting comedy actor/actress races have found African-American performers winning Emmys a grand total of four times–once in each category. Combining the victories for black actors and actresses in all 16 performing categories throughout the 63-year history of the Primetime Emmys results in 35, or roughly 5% of the total number of statuettes handed out.

Of the 94 nominations in the 16 primary categories for performers this year–including lead, supporting, and guest actor/actress in both comedies and dramas as well as lead and supporting actor/actress in a movie/miniseries–a mere five went to African-Americans. Besides Esposito, Rudolph, and Cheadle, the others are Idris Elba (lead actor in a movie/mini for Luther on BBC America) and Loretta Devine (guest actress in a drama for ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy).

Why the spotty history? TV Academy chairman and CEO Bruce Rosenblum says that it isn’t an issue of voter prejudice but a problem with the TV business itself. “I think it’s a concern for the industry”, he says. “It starts with the number of qualified performers on each of the shows at the pilot stage. It begins in the first year of a show, and I think it’s incumbent upon all of us at both the networks and the studios to take a look at how to expand the number of diverse individuals both in front of and behind the camera”.