Tuesday, January 24, 2006

"Colored" TV stations shutting down this fall


"Two small, struggling television networks, UPN and WB, will shut down this fall, and their parent companies plan to form a new network called The CW using programming and other assets from each of them."

It doesn't surprise me at all that UPN and the WB are finally getting yanked. It's been long overdue especially when you realize that both networks were the wicked step-children of CBS, a station that refused to air any black sitcoms and just passed them on to UPN and the WB (which got the better of the sitcoms than UPN). Let's take a look back at some of the fine programming of UPN and the WB, first on UPN we had: "Malcolm and Eddie," "Goode Behavior," "Sparks," "Moesha" and "Homeboys in Outer Space." Apart from "Moesha," the rest of the shows mentioned did not gain much popularity as a whole. I'll admit, I enjoyed "Malcolm and Eddie" from time to time but the problem with these shows is that they were pitched directly to the urban audience.

I found an interesting article by Robert Bianco on this matter: "In 1966, after years of protests, black audiences finally forced "Amos and Andy" off the air. Thirty years later, Amos, Andy and their various cultural cousins are back--with new names and a new network home, the fledgling UPN. But this time, the shows are being pitched directly at the black "urban" audience.... Aren't the '90s great? Can this really be what that audience wants? Look closely at the network's four new sitcoms, "Malcolm & Eddie," "Goode Behavior," "Sparks" and "Homeboys in Outer Space," and you'll see the same stereotypes that have haunted the black community for generations: "Amos'" gullible Andy and conniving Kingfish, "Porgy and Bess'" lecherous Sportin'Life, the cinema's cowardly Stepin Fetchit. The only significant difference is that the originals were better written and better acted." And he's 100% right, think of the stars of those sitcoms of the 90s: Eddie Griffen, Malcolm Jamaal Warner, Flex, Sherman Hemsley (post Jeffersons), James Avery (post Fresh Prince of Bel Air), Robin Givens...do I really have to keep going? Needless to say, the quality actors in these shows were only cast in an attempt to take advantage of their popularity at that time aka James Avery and Eddie Griffen (who was big in the standup scene a la Def Comedy Jam).

Now lets move on to Mr. Michigan J Frog's station the WB. Unlike UPN, the WB seemed to have a little more success with shoes such as "Parent 'Hood," "The Steve Harvey Show," "The Jamie Foxx Show," "Sister, Sister," and of course "The Wayans Brothers." I think what made these shows more successful than the ones on UPN (besides Moesha and I forgot to mention "In The House") was the fact that there was better acting, plots that could be related to all across the board and more input by the cast during the writing process. Robert Townsend wrote and produced for Parent Hood. Steve Harvey's show and Jamie Foxx's show were named after them so you have to believe that they had a HUGE part in the bulk of the script writing. Same goes for the Wayans Brothers. And Sister, Sister provided teenage girls with a show that they could relate to (esp. if they were twins).

You look at TV programming today and there are shows like "Girlfriends" (aka the black version of Sex in the City and is on UPN), Eve (UPN), "Bernie Mac Show (Fox)," "The Hughleys" (I think is off the air but I'm not sure). The amount of quality black programming is very small. BET airs classic episodes of Jaime Foxx and In Living Color, you can find reruns of Wayans Brothers, Martin, and Fresh Prince of Bel Air on lots of stations but the fact will remain: America does not really embrace black programming unless it's displayed in a way that isn't too "urban." Just look at the successful series in the last 10+ years: Fresh Prince and the Cosby Show.

4 comments:

Brother Spotless said...

Take it from a person who lives and works in a white dominated environment: the hip hop community is still something they fear. Somehow, our community has to show its humanity in more prevailent ways in order to be accepted and truly understood. Sadly, the only group of blacks I can see with both the knowledge and "crossover" ability to pull that off is the middle class. I say sadly because all in all, we aren't the ones who NEED to be understood; our poor friends and family members need to be understood the most.

Brother Tallness said...

I'm not the biggest fan of the UPN monday night lineup, but if im not mistaking, The Parkers was consistently the number 1 show among black households. When Seinfeld was at its prime, it never showed up in the top ten shows among black viewers (I think the only show that has been on both the black and white top ten has been monday night football).

It's a double edged sword: Black people want to see themselves represented in the shows they watch but most of the stuff that actually gets greenlighted is often not that good (bad writing, rehashed ideas). Black people support the bad stuff because bad stuff is better than nothing at all; the cycle never stops.

Some recent events that point towards change though. UPN and the WB collapsing; BET hires Reginald Hudlin (House Party, Bebe's kids) for head program director; The Source forces out Benzino and Dave Mays; and Jay-z signs Nas and the Roots to Def Jam; the sucess of Radio One. Hopefully, these are all signs that we will see more positive representation for black people in the media.

Brother Smartness said...

The reason why today’s shows are falling off is because there was a formula to the successful Black American sitcoms that captured the mainstream TV audiences of the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. That formula consisted of a devoted husband and committed father, parents with respectable and well-paying occupations, attractive and/or adorable children, affluence, and a remarkable balance between work/school and family.

Consider two of the most popular television shows of our time: The Cosby Show and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air . Each of these shows, while entertaining and creative, portrays the black family in a way that is inconsistent with the majority of families in Black America. These were the families we all aspired our own families to resemble. Although the Huxtable or Banks family might be the norm for some of us, it is a false representation of the ordinary black American family.

A show like The Parkers and some of the more recent sitcoms on UPN are the norm, however. But these shows don’t fit the formula mentioned above and so will never acheive the success of a Fresh Prince or a Cosby Show. The Parkers, for example, is a show about a single mother raising a teenage daughter (with no loving father). I don’t know what Ms. Parker does for a living, but she isn’t a lawyer or doctor. In fact, the image that comes to mind when I think of Ms. Parker is not one of a working woman or housewife, but that of a confident woman making advances to successful or attractive men. What makes the show interesting is that although Ms. Parker (the single black mother) is more of a reality for most, it isn’t the portrayal of black America that we want to see on television. This stands true particularly for the upper and middle class blacks and white Americans.

I’ll finish my thoughts on this matter by saying that black Americans have a remarkable hold on trends and are consequently able to dictate what is hot or not; they/we determine what movements are acceptable or unacceptable. Most people who can’t laugh at shows like Ms. Parker have difficulty with the portrayal of the black woman as a big-boned black single mother who is extremely confident. How many successful sitcoms have a black female as the main character? At the core of this unfortunate dearth is the black woman’s sexuality and confidence and the inability for society to come to terms with this deadly combination.

Find me an articulate and somewhat aged black actress who hasn’t had sex on screen, and a writer who will sell her to audiences as an asexual (Oprahesque) being, and I’ll show you the first successful black sitcom with a woman as its main character.

Kyle said...

Firstly, you must remember that "Sister, Sister" was first shown on ABC's popular TGIF in the 90's not on the WB or UPN. It was not until the sisters of "Sister, Sister" grew up that the network dropped the show.

Secondly, in response to brother uncouthness' comment, he forgot to mention "Everyone Hates Chris" as a popular crossover show this year. It's a show that does not portray a upper-class black family. It portrays a family that struggles financially and still manages to maintain a productive household. I feel often the lines of race and ethnicity are forced to be clearly delineated by the American public, for whatever reason, when those lines are being crossed over constantly within our daily cultural lives. Take, for example, a recent music share in my classroom where a girl brought in a hip hop song as her favorite song, and upon doing a dance she choreographed to the song, another girl from a different background who spends her weekends in the hamptons, asked the girl if she could teach her the same moves later on the terrace. The select adults see these racial and cultural lines, but children, and I would argue, the next generation of children do not see these lines as clearly delineated, nor do they want to. To see the world based on racial and ethnic differences is exhausting and, often, a worthless task. How far do you have to delineate until everyone is happy? Furthermore, what are the implications of this delineation? Despite popular belief, delineating does not create understanding, it separates.

As a side note, as I finish my comment, I look at the original title of this post and realize that "colored" is not a correct term because "colored" for 1) is antiquated language and 2) colored implies all brown people and I can not remember the last time I saw a hispanic focused show on these networks.