From 1956 to 1957, The Nat King Cole Show made the legendary singer the first Black to ever host a television show with 42 episodes. Called the “Jackie Robinson of Television,” Nat King Cole broke down color lines that forever changed the broadcast medium. What does modern television look like without Mr. “Unforgettable?”
For this year’s Black History Month celebration, allow us to share just how much we’d all miss out on without Black people to make history look cool.
Without Flip Wilson, There Wouldn’t Be A Legacy Of Black Variety Black Host
Besides earning a Golden Globe and two Emmy Awards, Clerow “Flip” Wilson Jr. was the first Black man to host a successful variety show through The Flip Wilson Show. Running for four seasons, the series featured many characters including classic character Geraldine.
Besides skits, the series also featured musical guests ranging from The Jackson 5 to Aretha Franklin. Without him becoming one of the most top-rated shows for its decade, the doors might not have opened to the future Black hosts that would inspire other generations, including Arsenio Hall, Chris Rock, Steve Harvey and more.
Without Max Robinson, Black Journalism Wouldn’t Have Surged in Popularity
Following time in the military and radio, Max Robinson launched his television career in Portsmouth, Virginia. Fired from the station after showing his face to television viewers, he joined the Eyewitness News team in Washington D.C. where he became the first Black new anchor on a localized television news program.
Inspiring the next wave of broadcast and print journalists, eventually he created the National Association of Black Journalists.
Without Max Robinson, news stories about Black people nationally wouldn’t have gotten the spotlight. More so, there wouldn’t have been a surge of Black journalists through the NABJ.
Without Carole Simpson, Major Networks Wouldn’t Have Highlighted Black Women Anchors
Paving the way for Black women in broadcast journalism was Carole Simpson. The University of Michigan graduate became the first Black woman to serve as anchor of a major network newscast through Chicago’s WMAQ.
Later on, Simpson also became the first Black woman to moderate a presidential debate in 1992 between George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Ross Perot.
Without Simpson, broadcast news wouldn’t see how capable Black women are when given the chance like Tamron Hall and Joy Reid.
Without Don Cornelius & ‘Soul Train,’ America Doesn’t Reimagine the Sound of Pop Music
Dick Clark’s American Bandstand highlighted usually Black artists who had crossed over into mainstream pop. However, Soul Train host and executive producer Don Cornelius had other plans.
Soul Train not only showcased emerging Black talent but also Black dancers as well. Moving past acceptable notions of celebrating Black artists, Cornelius created the Soul Train Music Awards in 1987, which still goes on till this very day. Without Don Cornelius, there is no modern day renaissance involving Black stars reimagining the sound of pop music.
Without ‘Bobby Jones Gospel,’ Modern Gospel Doesn’t Have a Platform
One of the first shows on the then-new BET network during the early 80s, Bobby Jones Gospel is still the longest-running series on the network despite ending in 2015.
Without the show that aired primarily on weekends, audiences wouldn’t have been introduced to artists who would become legends within Gospel music including Yolanda Adams, Kirk Franklin, and Smokie Norful.
Without Arsenio Hall, The Late Night TV Show Dynamic Doesn’t Evolve
Comedian and actor Arsenio Hall got the rare chance for when asked to host Fox’s The Late Show following an exit from initial host Joan Rivers alongside a rotation of guest interim host. Skewing a younger and more Black demographic than competing late night shows during its premiere in 1989, The Arsenio Hall Show held its own against both Jay Leno’s The Tonight Show and Late Night With David Letterman.
Outside of featuring culturally significant individuals, artists and actors in Black culture, the show also had some political leanings. Without The Arsenio Hall Show, we wouldn’t have seen then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton play the saxophone and witness how powerful the Black vote can be through television.
Most importantly, audiences wouldn’t have seen a Black man run late-night TV.
Without Oprah Winfrey, Igniting the Next Black Mogul Would Be Much Harder
Oprah Winfrey became the queen of daytime talk shows following the 25 seasons of The Oprah Winfrey Show between 1986 and 2011. So much that other daytime talks shows since have yet to reach the peak of her ratings.
That wasn’t enough for the boss, however.
Between acting and producing in films, magazines, books and even a broadcast network through OWN, she’s also become one of the few Black women billionaires.
Without Oprah, sparking the interest within the next Black woman mogul might have been harder to do.
Without Keenen Ivory Wayans, Black-Led Variety Shows Wouldn’t Have Redefined Comedy
There weren’t many variety skitch shows featuring primarily Black talent after The Flip Wilson Show. Meanwhile, Saturday Night Live normally only had one comedian of color. That changed once In Living Color made its 1990 debut.
Created and hosted by Keenen Ivory Wayans and his brother Damon Wayans, the show introduced audiences to future Hollywood royalty from Jamie Foxx and Jim Carrey to Jennifer Lopez.
No In Living Color means Hollywood not only would have potentially lost out on some greats, but the comedy landscape would’ve been severely affected without them, too.
Without ‘Yo! MTV Raps,’ There’s No Hip Hop Culture Shown to the World
It’s hard for many to remember a time when hip hop was considered a niche sub-culture that would eventually fade away.
Hip hop Fab 5 Freddy utilized a young MTV network and its fledging relationship with the culture to create Yo! MTV Raps as a music video program, which was dedicated specifically to spotlighting the culture.
Hosted by Doctor Dre and Ed Lover, the series also featured interviews with then-current and upcoming legends. Without Yo! MTV Raps, hip hop wouldn’t have been seen as an international force for good as it has now become.
Without Amber Ruffin, Robin Thede, There’s No Vaulting of Black Women TV Writers
Television history doesn’t speak much about the importance of writers for late-night talk shows. Doesn’t help that there have been battles of inclusion there as well.
Robin Thede became the first Black woman to create the first Black women-led sketch show, which received a Primetime Emmy Award nomination.
Without these women, Hollywood might have overlooked other Black women TV writers like Naomi Ekperigin, Quinta Brunson, and others from sharing their creative works with the world.