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It's still pretty pale at the top

Six times.

That's how often Boris Kodjoe was asked to audition for the lead in NBC's spy adventure "Undercovers" before he agreed. His explanation? He'd thought the network would never hire a black man to star in one of its most important new series.

Now that NBC has decided to make just 13 episodes, effectively canceling it amid critical carping and lackluster ratings, a new question arises:

Will anyone hire another black or brown person to star in a new, important network TV show?

Since the days of Bill Cosby's super-successful "Cosby Show," advocates of TV diversity have yearned for another minority-led show to find wide acceptance on network TV.

But with the cancellations of "Undercovers" and Jimmy Smits' drama "Outlaw," network prime time has once again become a world in which people of color are mostly sidekicks, best friends, work pals or members of large ensemble casts. (The CW's "Nikita" now is the only scripted network show starring a person of color who isn't in an ensemble, former Hong Kong film star Maggie Q.)

Why do network TV shows led solely by actors of color keep failing? How much of the situation is really about race? And what's the impact on viewers when people of color are mostly supporting characters, whatever the reason?

"Knowing Hollywood as I do, having made it all the way to camera tests (for other parts) and then being told they went a different way, which meant a white actor, I was convinced this would be the same situation," Kodjoe said this summer.

Eventually, a call from the casting agent persuaded him. After snagging the role, Kodjoe would learn that co-creator J.J. Abrams ("Lost," 2009's "Star Trek") was hoping to cast nonwhite actors as leads for the series about married, retired CIA agents who secretly get back into the spy game.

TV can be brutal: Just two months into the new season, five shows already have been canceled.

One good sign: Critics and industry experts seem to recognize that "Undercovers" suffered from trying to compete with "Survivor" on Wednesday nights plus an unknown cast, lackluster scripts and an awkward premise.

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