Friday, April 10, 2009

fade to... well, not black

It's fair to say that when I was growing up, I watched way too much television. I was a bookworm and I wasn't an athlete. I preferred my own company to the company of some of the catty little girls who lived on my block, so that kept me in the house. So I loved watching television. Unlike my mom and dad, who grew up either without television, or with few and fleeting blacks on TV, there were lots of shows I could watch that had either lead black character or majority black casts that were either taping or were in syndication.

Among them were Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, Gimme a Break, The Jeffersons, Good Times, The Cosby Show, A Different World, 227, Amen, What's Happening, What's Happening Now, Benson, and Sanford and Son, just off the top of my head. Eventually I guess the major networks got tired of shows featuring blacks and the only place to find them were on the fledgling networks, which at that time included Fox, the WB, and UPN, which later merged with WB to become CW, by the time I was a teenager. These shows included New York Undercover, In Living Color, The Wayans Bros., Living Single... Occasionally, a major network show would pop up, like Family Matters, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, or rarely found black dramas, like City of Angels. I remember this one drama about a family with James Earl Jones in it - that didn't last long at all. There was another with Terrence Howard and Anna Maria Horsford that didn't get off the ground. There were lots of shows with black casts that didn't stick around long or like The Smart Guy and Girlfriends, got shuttled from network to network. The biggest sitcoms at the time didn't have any black characters in them at all. And most of the blacks you did find would be in multiracial ensemble casts, like on ER, or Boston Public, a trend which continues with Heroes, 24, House, Grey's Anatomy, Scrubs... I could go on. I guess we stopped being funny or interesting when I was a teenager.

We must really not be interesting now. In recent years, I can count network shows with black casts quickly and easily, and except for The (still underrated) Bernie Mac Show, they were all relegated to the fledgling network, CW. Girlfriends. Everybody Hates Chris. The Game. One on One. All Of Us. If you want to see black folks on TV, you better catch some old shows in syndication or get yourself some cable, 'cause all but one of those shows has been cancelled, and the one - ONE - remaining network show on TV with a majority black cast, The Game, is hanging on for dear life. I can't say it enough - ONE. It's not completely lonely on TV if you have cable, though. Tyler Perry's sitcoms - you know, the ones I can't sit through - are on TBS and running in syndication already on the fledgling MYNetworkTV. And I hear there's an actual family drama on the ABC Family channel called Lincoln Heights that's still in production for a couple more seasons. That's nice, and somewhat shocking. Of course, if you're into reality shows, there's plenty of black folks on those. Ray J/Flavor Flav meet supposedly-unscripted 'hoes", supposedly-unscripted "hoes" meet Ray J/Flavor Flav. Notice I haven't mentioned BET. As I understand it, they just seem to have reality shows in production. I'm talking about drama and comedy. Thank goodness for relative newcomer TV One, which picks up all the shows we miss that were cancelled too early, moved to bad time slots to be destined for failure, or simply not promoted well. But right now who is actually writing and producing stories about blacks and their families?

Anyway, I just want to say that I'm glad I grew up in what seems to be shaping up as the golden age - the peak, if you will - of being able to see black folks on television. There are people trying to save The Game now, by trying to convince the network to change it into an hour-long drama (since CW wants to quit sitcoms), and I hope it works. If it doesn't, there won't be any more majority black casts on TV. Wow. Unless, you know, one of the fledgling networks - which is pretty much just MYNetworkTV at this point - comes up with something for the 2009 fall season only to make enough money off advertising to black viewers to afford dumping them in 2011 to produce something more "mainstream." Which is funny to me because it's well known we black folks tend to be more loose with our disposable income than others. You'd think we'd be an audience worth keeping. And you'd think that the "mainstream" would be just as entertained by black casts now as they used to be when I was a kid. Oh well. What do I know?

I guess I better snap up some black shows on DVD for my unborn children.