Just like some families have game night, my family had TV night where one night a week we would crowd around the television set and watch family sitcoms. It all started with a blaring trumpet and bad dancing from Bill Cosby that introduced my family (and 36,000 other viewers) to “The Cosby Show,” which was followed by the show’s spinoff, “A Different World” that focused on a range of issues (date rape, HIV, domestic violence and racism) that were just as powerful and moving as the lighter moments in the sitcom (who could forget Dwayne and Whitley’s wedding?). This tradition continued for eight years with other popular Black shows dominating the airwaves (e.g. “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” “Family Matters,” and “Moesha”).
Now, movie night is a fading memory along with a majority of Black shows on network TV. This fall season viewers were only introduced to two new shows with a predominately Black cast (one being a cartoon) in the primetime lineup. One is Fox’s “Brothers” show about a retired NFL player who unexpectedly returns home to Houston to be with his parents and younger brother. Even though the show has an appealing cast that includes former football Giant Michael Strahan, the show airs on Friday nights attracting a meager 2.3 million viewers, leading to whispers of cancellation by the spring, according to TV by the Numbers Web site, which provides data on the television industry.
The second show may sound more familiar, “The Cleveland Show,” also airing on Fox, is a spin-off of the popular animated series “Family Guy.” Sanaa Lathan, Reagen Gomez- Preston and Kevin Michael Richardson lend their voices to the sitcom, which has already been renewed for a second season. “The Cleveland show” is already considered one of the popular animated shows of this year, and also the only show to feature a minority-cast that is getting attention on network TV.
Last spring, viewers watched CW’s “The Game” and “Everybody Hates Chris” get cancelled, which marked the elimination of three (don’t forget “Girlfriends”!) shows with minority cast members in less than three years on network TV.
Recently, cable networks have begun to air more shows with African American lead characters; Jada Pinkett introduced us to feisty and overcommitted nurse ”Hawthorne” on TNT this summer and The View’s Sherri Shepherd teamed up with Lifetime to create a show about her life, “Sherri.” However, the only show on cable to feature an all-black cast is Tyler Perry’s “House of Payne” and “Meet the Browns” on TBS. Both shows have gained a large following, but the slapstick humor displayed on the show, which has been compared to “The Jeffersons” and “What’s Happening!” has some thinking that Black shows are moving toward the past, instead of embracing the present.
“I know it’s making a lot of money and breaking records, but we could do better…I am a huge basketball fan, and when I watch the games on TNT, I see these two ads for these two shows (“Meet the Browns” and “House of Payne”), and I am scratching my head. We got a black president, and we going back to Mantan Moreland and Sleep ‘n’ Eat? [minstrel show]” Spike Lee said in an interview with Ed Gordon.
While others feel that Perry is speaking to an audience that has yet to be heard until now.
Mark Anthony, professor of African-American studies at Duke University told The Washington Times that “Tyler Perry has been successful because what he recognized was that there was actually a niche market among African-Americans that was very rarely reflected in mainstream television and also very rarely catered to in terms of consumer taste.”
For over a decade viewers have been introduced to a handful of black shows (“The Wayans Brothers,” ”The Bernie Mack Show,” “The Steve Harvey Show,”” Sister, Sister,“ ”The Parent ‘Hood,”” Soul Food”) that featured colorful characters, humorous scenarios and enlightening issues that relate to the Black community, giving viewers a glimpse at our culture. And with so many shows disappearing and only a few gems appearing (The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency (link the review we did on this show here) on TV, it leaves a serious gap in programming aimed to reflect us.
Below is an award-winning documentary, “Color Adjustment” from PBS that traces the evolution of the Black image since the early age of television. â€¨ â€¨
"Color Adjustment" provided courtesy of distributor California Newsreel. They can be contacted at www.newsreel.org