Everyone remembers the “golden age” of Black TV back in the ‘90’s: there was the all-around favorite, The Cosby Show, edgy comedies like Martin and Living Single, and even the gritty police drama New York Undercover featured a majority Black and Latino cast. These days, however, if you decide to flip through your channels looking for scripted Black shows, you’re likely to come up short.
"Back when The Cosby Show was on television, all of the networks were eager to create sitcoms with African-American families because they thought they were reversing years of discrimination," Paul Levinson, professor of media studies at Fordham University in New York told the Detroit News. "But today, Blacks are mainstream and the president is Black. Because of this, television executives and producers don't think they need to base sitcoms around African-Americans."
Despite the mostly all-white or multicultural casting in the sitcoms of today, there still seems to be a place for the all-Black cast. And slowly but surely, all-Black shows seem to be making a steady comeback — at least on cable.
This fall, BET debuted its new Cosby-style sitcom Reed Between the Lines featuring former Cosby kid, actor Malcolm Jamal Warner, alongside actress Tracee Ellis-Ross, also from the all-Black cast of canceled sitcom Girlfriends. In addition, Tyler Perry helped add to the ranks of Black cable TV with the recent debut of his third Black sitcom on TBS.
"You had a window there where everybody said sitcoms were dead," Vicangelo Bulluck, executive director of the NAACP Hollywood Bureau and executive producer of the NAACP Image Awards, told the paper. "Now that sitcoms are finally on their way back, there's a void that hasn't been filled in terms of a diversity of voices."
Still, in the land of broadcast TV, Black casts are hard to come by. All three of the last remaining Black shows, The Game (now on BET), Everybody Hates Chris and Brothers, ended in 2009. Execs say that casting isn’t the golden ticket to television diversity, but that minorities should be represented in all aspects of the business (especially writing) to affect lasting change.
"Casting alone will not take us to the next level," Nicole Bernard, Fox's senior vice president of audience strategy, told the Detroit News. "People like to see themselves on TV, but the programs should be authentic and that means having more black and Latino writers telling these stories."
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(Photo: dpa /Landov)