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The Demise of Healthy Black Television

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Martin. Living Single. Family Matters. A Different World. In Living Color. The Wayans Brothers. Hanging with Mister Cooper. The Jamie Foxx Show. Moesha. The Steve Harvey show. Malcolm and Eddie. The Hugleys. Sister, Sister. What’s Happening! Roc. 227. The Bernie Mac Show. Everybody Hates Chris. Girlfriends. Good Times. Fat Albert & the Cosby Kids. The Jeffersons. Sanford & Son. The Fresh Prince Of Belair.

During the 1990’s, black entertainment had reach commercial success. Very much like hip hop it has broken color barriers and became part of American culture. It’s dual contributions of entertaining and glorifying positive, productive images of the black experience was good for educating non-blacks about the African American community. But near the end of the ninety’s reality television made its debut and no one thought that it would shift the entire industry and change the way networks created television. Today, these shows aforementioned are just a nostalgic memory of our glory days and black reality television has replaced images of positivity with drama, sex, lies and infidelity. But, can black entertainment and classic television stage a comeback?

After the success of the Cosby’s in the 80s, black producers, writers and directors were hired by networks to create urban sitcoms that had mainstream/crossover potential. The result was the golden era of black TV. We had diverse storylines- from Carl Winslow’s life as a family man/cop in Chicago with an annoying teenaged neighbor to Jamie King’s journey to stardom when he moves from Texas to California to become an actor while working at his uncle’s hotel. We don’t know just how good we had it. UPN and the WB had an urban sitcom on almost every night.

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Suddenly in the early 2000s, we saw many of our favorite shows disappear. Part of the disappearance had to do with UPN, a network originally targeting African Americans, merging with the CW but only keeping two black casts- Girlfriends and Everybody hates Chris.

Also many networks decided to integrate programming-bringing one or two black cast members on to shows as a way of appealing to modern, diverse audiences.

With several new primetime sitcoms added to network programming each year, why aren’t there with any majority black casting? Its not that we don’t want the programming-networks such as BET, MTV2 and others show marathons of popular 90s sitcoms all the time. Its not from lack of talent-several new black writers and producers are turning to web series to showcase content when they can’t find work with networks. The answer is simple: reality television.

With fast turnaround, extremely cheap production costs and everyone’s natural desire to watch train wrecks, reality television has become the most popular programming in recent years. If you go on most networks, you will see their highest rated programming is a reality show. From the Voice to Love and Hip-Hop, people like to see competition and drama.

Sadly, most of the shows that do reach urban markets-House of Payne, the now-defunct Reed between the lines, and The Game for example-have low viewership, boring, predictable storylines or paint a stereotypical portrait of black culture.  If you want to see modern, funny content that appeals to a diverse black crowd, your best bet is YouTube. There are several production companies that are using crowd funding to bring fresh and quality programming to audiences worldwide.

Are you going to check out some of the content on-line? Do you miss black sitcoms?

What do you think is the solution?

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