Where are all the African American TV Shows?

Saturday, 29 August 2009 21:28 Written by  Stormi Texas

Over the years, African Americans TV shows have come a long way. Different shows like “Good Times,”  “The Jeffersons,” and “The Cosby Show” displayed African Americans living their lives in a brighter light. Hollywood usually tends to portray African Americans as criminals or working in a subservient position. These three shows had brought something other TV shows were missing—some sort of “reality” in the African American community.


Cast of "The Cosby Show"

“Good Times” was the TV show to watch during the 70’s because it focused on the real issues many poor African American families had to face. The show also displayed all three children having their own high-reaching goals—from being a famous painter, a dancer and a lawyer. The parents always found a way to teach their children something positive about life. Today we have some shows that bring back the positive message to TV for African Americans, but some of them don’t last long enough because of low ratings.

This fall, two popular TV shows will not be returning for another season: “Everybody Hates Chris” and “The Game.” Both shows were popular with different African American families. Unfortunately, both shows got canceled due to low ratings.

“About 80 percent of shows get canceled after one season or less. I haven't studied the cancellation patterns, but my guess is that African American shows are canceled at the same rate as other shows. It's just that there are fewer shows with predominantly African American casts, so their cancellation may be more noticeable,”  said Marc Allan, a television critic and writer for New York Post and Los Angeles Times.

We have shows like “Friday Night Lights” and “Gossip Girls”  that have very serious topics for their viewers, like premarital sex and peer pressure. It seems like the only time African Americans are cast in shows is when they are to provide the comic relief. It’s hard to take a show seriously when they always have you laughing at serious topics.

“That, unfortunately, hasn't been typical on the networks,” Allan said. ‘Lincoln Heights’ certainly deals with serious topics, and ‘Soul Food’ did too. Network shows with African American casts have tended to be sitcoms, it's true. Here's the thing about television: If the networks thought they could get good ratings with a drama about African Americans, they'd make dramas about African Americans. It's all about ratings and money. That said, I think ‘Girlfriends’ and ‘The Game,’ among other shows, have tackled serious issues over the years. And I think casting is far more colorblind than it's ever been. Does it have a ways to go? Yes. But we're a long way from the nearly all-white worlds of ‘Seinfeld’ and ‘Friends.’”

For example “Tyler Perry’s House of Payne” makes us all laugh. Every time they try to tackle something serious, a joke comes out of the conversation, which sometimes over powers the message.

Many African Americans feel there is nothing on TV they can relate to. Some popular networks for African Americans have made young black people look like all they want to do is fight or act a fool on TV.

The Cast of "The Game"

“Some of the stuff that they allow on television honestly embarrasses me as a young African American woman,” said Cyntkaillie Coleman, a Columbia College graduate. “It’s almost like they want to make a mockery of our race. Like on MTV and VH1 with, shows like ‘New York Goes to Work,’ and ‘Real Chance of Love’ and shows of that nature. CNN has the series called ‘Black in America.’ I really appreciated the concept, however, now there is a ‘Latino in America,’ coming out as well. It’s almost like we can’t get a break, we can’t have anything to ourselves. I feel like more shows of that nature need to air on television to give our young people some insight on what actually goes on in the world.”

Each season, networks are coming up with different TV shows to watch. When will producers and network executives take the time out to develop a good African American show? Something is holding the networks back from developing something good to watch on TV.

“There have been great shows with largely African American casts, most recently ‘Everybody Hates Chris.’ I'd say that's one of the best sitcoms of the past five years,” Allan said. “They just want to be assured that the shows will get ratings. ‘Everybody Hates Chris’ lasted four seasons, and its ratings were tiny. You can't expect a network to make more shows if no one wants to watch.”

Looks like we may have to wait a while to have another “Good Times” and “The Jeffersons” in our generation.


Stormi Texas

Stormi Texas

Stormi Texas is a GMO staff writer.

She can be contacted at Stormi@glossmagazineonline.com