Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Quiet Death of Black Television.

Yeah, we all know TeeVee Sux, but even I didn't realize things were this bad until I ran across this recent LA Times article.

"Everybody Hates Chris" is a show with a predominantly African American cast in an era when black-themed series appear to be at a crossroads. This season's departure of the CW's long-running "Girlfriends" leaves only two network shows in prime time -- both struggling on the CW --that revolve around black casts: "Everybody Hates Chris" and the "Girlfriends" spinoff "The Game."

Meanwhile, on the cable side, the numbers are only slightly better. There's ABC Family's “Lincoln Heights," a one-hour drama about a black family, and TBS' "Tyler Perry's House of Payne," a highly rated sitcom. And last month, MyNetwork TV launched “Under One Roof," a comedy starring rapper Flavor Flav that was met with a chorus of negative reviews.

The issue of fewer African American stars and shows has provoked pointed concern from minority groups. In particular, Vic Bulluck, president of the Hollywood chapter of the NAACP, decries the further shrinking of television's historically limited racial diversity.

"We're very concerned about and disappointed at the lack of representation," said Bulluck. "It's something that we've been discussing with all the networks for a while, ever since the 'Bernie Mac' show left Fox. With 'Girlfriends' now leaving, the situation becomes a lot more urgent. The situation as it stands now is unacceptable."

However, lower numbers of primarily black shows may also signal something completely different -- a growing dissolution of the medium's color line. Instead of being ignored, blacks may have merely become more deeply integrated and accepted into mainstream culture, thus eliminating the need for segregated series.
Before you ask, yeah, I realize this is all pretty trivial in the grand scheme of things[1]. But I guess this all just reinforces my oft noted assertion that "black TV" is a thing of the past. I told ya'll "Under One Roof" wouldn't make it to Memorial Day, but believe it or not, the show's still on. I wouldn't know personally, I only watched about 3 minutes of a single episode before I could no longer tolerate it. I hear "Lincoln Heights" is decent, but it looks like a tween' show. "Everybody Hates Chris" is great, but you wonder if it's going to lose steam, "Bernie Mac Show"-style as the kids get too old for their roles. "The Game" is just awful. Did anyone even watch "Girlfriends" after the canned Toni Childs? And don't even get me started on "Tyler Perry's House of Payne".

Basically, the cubbard is pretty darned bare.

I can't say who's to blame for this, if anyone. The article goes on to argue that having blacks "integrated" into traditional TV shows like "Grey's Anatomy", "ER", those "CSI" shows, and my personal favorite, "Private Practice" is progress, as opposed to segregating them on unwatchable networks like CW/WB/UPN/WhateverIt'sCalled. I guess I can somewhat understand that logic, but I don't really agree with it.

While it's great to have black actors on mainstream shows like "Grey's", these folks are usually still just inconsequential "background" characters there to provide a loving support and a warm shoulder for the white characters around whom the shows usually revolve. Given the choice, I'd prolly take "What's Happenin'?" over that arrangement anyday.[2]

Question: Do you think the lack of "black" shows is a sign of progress or cause for concern?

Black-themed series come to a crossroads [LA Times]

[1] I mean, it's not like Black America couldn't stand a few more hours at the library and less time in front of Tell-A-Lie-Vision. I'm just sayin'.

[2] Speaking of which, how about this blast from the past...

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