What Has Happened to the Black Sitcom?

Discussion in 'TV Shows' started by MikeMO, May 10, 2006.

  1. MikeMO

    MikeMO Stunt Coordinator

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    I am 22, and I remember growing up with great, fun shows like Cosby, Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Sister Sister, Martin, Living Single, Family Matters, In Living Color, Kenan and Kel, The Parent 'Hood, Roc, etc....A lot of these shows--in my opinion--were great.

    And nowadays, it seems most black based sitcoms are relagated to UPN for whatever reason. And I read a second article today in the Boston Globe (the first was in Entertainment Weekly) that stated that due to the WB/UPN merger, a lot of black sitcoms will fall by the wayside except for maybe a couple like "Everybody Hates Chris" and "Girlfriends." It also stated that the people who work on these shows are predominately black, from the cast members to producers to writers to the camera-men...and a lot of them will be out of a job. Not to mention a lot of the viewers of these shows will have significantly less options available to them now.

    I guess many here don't care, but I'm just curious for opinions...What do you think happened that has caused such a regression? I know that the sitcom quality in general has declined since the 1990's, but why does there seem to be such a derth of black sitcoms on TV on the bigger networks compared to say 10 years ago? What has caused the regression? It would seem to me that more progress should have been made by now, especially since those sitcoms back then were good.

    Any thoughts?
     
  2. TravisR

    TravisR Studio Mogul

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    I believe that the only reason is because the networks think that there is less of an audience for a black sitcom than, say, a cop show or reality TV. I don't see it as a conspiracy (nor did you suggest it was) but it does seem to me that the networks are just unaware of what is a somewhat significant number of audience members.

    And really there's also the possibility that it could be that any black sitcom pilots have just not been good.
     
  3. Adam Lenhardt

    Adam Lenhardt Executive Producer

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    I also think there's still a stereotype that black viewers have less spending power.
    Almost all shows are targeted squarely to the affluent white 18-34 demographic.
     
  4. MikeMO

    MikeMO Stunt Coordinator

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    I I see what you are sort of saying...but the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was just sitcom for everyone...so was Family Matters, Kenan and Kel, Sister Sister, Living Single etc...although it had a black cast, it wasn't really cutural humor. It was universal.

    Which is why I asked the question...just because it stars a black cast doesn't mean it HAS to just deal with black issues...and since shows like this have been succesful in the past, I am surprised there aren't more on the big networks. There has been a blueprint showing that black shows can certainly succeed with a wide variety of viewers.
     
  5. Marc L

    Marc L Stunt Coordinator

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    ratings. if today's black sitcoms were getting the numbers that Cosby got in the early 90's...there would still be alot of them. as the ratings go down, shows disappear.
     
  6. Mikah Cerucco

    Mikah Cerucco Cinematographer

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    Living Single, when it aired, was like #1 in black households and didn't even crack the top 10 in "white" households. There were articles written about it at the time which may or may not be available on the web. One of the discussions was about how Friends was essentially Living Single with white people. I think that oversimplifies things, but that's where the article was going.

    Anyway, the issue is ratings and money. That's all the networks care about. Even if 100% of black families watch a black sitcom, that's still only, what, 10% of the population? The shows need crossover appeal.

    Most of the "black" shows are on UPN because UPN was willing to accept the smaller ratings numbers those shows bring in. Fox was in the same situation with Living Single and Martin. When they were smaller, they were willing to accept the numbers, but as the network grew, so did their expectations. Shows like Living Single could help get Fox from point A to point B, but not to point C. If I remember correctly, there was a large uproar in the black community at the time it was cancelled. It was still #1 or #2 in black households. ABC tried again with The Hughleys. A little more crossover appeal, especially by it not being all black.

    All in all, it isn't that the "black" sitcom is dead (outside of UPN) because it's black. The black sitcom is dead because the current ones don't appeal to wider audiences.
     
  7. MarkHastings

    MarkHastings Executive Producer

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    I think UPN is the reason. The shows weren't bad, (IMO) it just seems that UPN marketed their shows to a black audience, instead of a black and white audience.

    I would assume that TV audiences are predominantly white, so you gotta market toward whites. That's why the Cosby Show was so successful.
     
  8. Chris_Morris

    Chris_Morris Screenwriter

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  9. MikeMO

    MikeMO Stunt Coordinator

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    My "MO" is to try and get as many opinions on it as possible. I think it's an interesting topic that otherwise doesn't get much talk aside from a couple newspaper and/or magazine articles.
     
  10. Jerry Almeida

    Jerry Almeida Second Unit

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    I don't think it was necessary to accuse Mike of any ulterior motives in his post. I think we've all discussed the same topic among different groups of people before.

    I agree with Mark, there does seem to be a trend with black sitcoms primarily targeting smaller audiences.

    Creating a hit television show isn't an exact science. The right combination of great actors and great writing will come together again, and we'll probably see an influx of black sitcoms again.
     
  11. mattCR

    mattCR Executive Producer
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    I think here's the problem some of us have. The current crop of sitcoms with African American characters are not very open and don't show what a lot of us believe is a really positive message.

    I try to equate it to a lot of teen programming. Imagine if I cast a show about white teens in HS and everyone walked around using tons of situation lingo that a big portion of the audience just went "what?" to. Ie, girls walking around "oh, that's so fierce" etc.

    Too many African American sitcoms have structured themselves around dialog that is frustrating to listen to for an older audience. If you're around it all the time, you get it. But if I were to go to my parents, and watch most of the current programming with them, the slang would completely lose them, because it just carreis no meaning for them at all, so for them they might as well be watching spanish speaking programming.

    Think about it. When you watched Roc, Fresh Prince, Cosby Show, how often did those programs drop phrases that were street savy but not common coin in say, Des Moines?

    Even comedies like Good Times and The Jeffersons had characters who spoke in a way everyone in the audience could get, and yes, some catchphrases here or there.

    Now, some shows like "Everybody Hates Chris" are incredibly well written and just suffer from being on the wrong network, which is unfortunately true of a lot of African American sitcoms right now.

    But when you look at the attempts the big networks have made, they failed because the audience just couldn't understand what the hell was going on. A few years ago, Fox trotted out Method & Red, and seriously for probably fifty percent or more of the audience they might as well have been speaking a different language.

    That hurts the viewership. And it also hurts the impression people get of a show. When people watch a programming and the characters speak slang all the time, ther eis a clicker in me that thinks that wether people actually talk like this or not, it's denigrating to promote it as any sort of role model.

    There should be more African American friendly sitcoms on TV. But look at all the ones that were successful, about families trying to make it, common people, etc. versus what doesn't. And the contrast is pretty clear.
     
  12. Berk

    Berk Stunt Coordinator

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    If there was money in black sitcoms (from advertising revenue, of course), we'd see more black sitcoms. If there is no perceived financial profit from such an endeavor, concepts won’t even go to pilot without an influential backer (Spielberg, for instance).
     
  13. MarkHastings

    MarkHastings Executive Producer

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    and as TravisR eluded to, sitcoms (in general) are now harder to get on the air because Reality Shows are so much cheaper to produce.

    mattCR, you make a good point. I go back to the Cosby Show. It was successful because it reached a LARGE market. Not only blacks and white, but young and old.

    p.s. I hope no one is offended by my use of the term "black" - I'm just using it along with 'white' as a description.
     
  14. Robert A. Willis Jr.

    Robert A. Willis Jr. Second Unit

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    Granted that there are a good number of Hispanic serving cable channels versus AfroAmerican serving cable channels (TVOne, BFC and BET). But how many Hispanic programs are on the major networks? 1. George Lopez, 2. ???

    As was stated before, 18-34 white (mostly) men are the general target. This is where the executives feel the money is. I would also speculate that the decision makers are mostly white men.
     
  15. MikeMO

    MikeMO Stunt Coordinator

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    Good points...I agree that maybe it's in part due to the fact that sitcoms dying off a little or the reality tv infulx.

    MattCR...you make some good points. I guess I'd counter by saying this: I totally agree with you about the stereotypical black shows on the UPN. I agree that an older generation may not want to watch these shows. But my original post wasn't asking why aren't these types of black UPN-esque shows on the big networks. My question was: If we have seen shows starring black casts that were NOT stereotypical--shows like Cosby, Fresh Prince, Family Matters, Roc, Living Single, etc...and they were all quite successful--why does it seem like there has been such a regression since these shows have ended? A regression such to the point that, aside from My Wife and Kids (which ended last season) and The Bernie Mac Show (which will unfortunately probably end this year), most black sitcoms currently on TV are both stereotypical and relegated to the UPN.
     
  16. MarkHastings

    MarkHastings Executive Producer

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    I do remember that when the Cosby Show first aired, a large part of it's sucess was the "positive portrayal of a black family" - in a time when TV was predominantly white.

    Now I'm just guessing here, but it just seems that none of these producers cares about putting out that same kind of 'positive portrayal' sitcom. As was mentioned, it's all sterotypical jokes.

    I think they did well with Cosby's last show (on CBS) - That was definitely aimed at an older/broader audience. What ever happened to that show? Probably because it was on CBS? [​IMG]
     
  17. LarryDavenport

    LarryDavenport Cinematographer

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    I was hoping in my lifetime we would stop thinking in terms of black or white, gay or straight, english or spanish, but I guess I am living in a fantasy land. I'll watch a sitcom that I think is funny regardless of the color of people. I never thought of Cosby or Sanford & Son, or Hanging With Mr. Cooper as "black" sitcoms. I think where the big four networks go wrong is when they go out of their way to do an "ethnic" show, rather than do a solid comedy with characters who happen to be black or hispanic.
     
  18. Holadem

    Holadem Lead Actor

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    How about Man and Woman while we're at it? So we're all supposed to become one big homogeneous blob? There are different kind of people on this earth, and I continue to be perplexed by this bizarre drive to pretend it ain't so.

    Would someone who is familiar with the topic provide a list and description of black sitcoms currently airing?

    The only one I am somewhat familiar with is Girlfriend, having watched an episode here and there. I find it a shrewdly accurate look at the middle class african-american community.

    The few eps of My Wife and Kids I watched were hilarious.

    --
    H
     
  19. Derek Miner

    Derek Miner Screenwriter

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    I heard an interesting interview with Ali LeRoit, who has been working with Chris Rock for a while now and is showrunner of "Everybody Hates Chris." I can't get a link from where I'm posting, but it was on the KCRW radio show "The Treatment" hosted by Elvis Mitchell. You can podcast episodes from the station's website or iTunes music store. Some great comments in there about the approach they took to the "black" sitcom.
     
  20. Walter C

    Walter C Cinematographer

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    Freddie (which I watch sometimes, when waiting for Lost to start)

    I can remember when ABC tried to cater to the Asian market with All-American Girl, but that failed miserably. I knew a lot of Koreans who didn't take kindly to the protrayal or even casting a Chinese to play a Korean.
     

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