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BET, TV One, Other Black Networks Deserve Attention … They’re all We Have

Network TV executives of ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX and CW have settled comfortably into presenting zero all-black shows as part of their rosters.  We’ve seen shows such as Girlfriends, The Game, Everybody Hates Chris, My Wife and Kids, The Bernie Mac Show, etc morph into those with ensemble casts featuring one or two black faces in supporting roles.  Admittedly, black faces are in abundance on television in that capacity, but there’s nothing like a good all-black show to escape to and catch a break from the “ensemble” lives we typically lead.
The reasonable expectation of diversity and fairness would have blacks angry at the fact that we’re not represented in exclusive capacity on the big five.  Shouldn’t their be some intervention from our “leaders” regarding the slight?  In the past, there has been, but as we move toward — at least in theory — interracial stabilization, we may no longer have a valid argument?  Many feel it’s not OK at this stage in the growth of our country’s attitude toward inclusion to hang on to pockets of segregation.  That all-black cast, to some, contributes to the us and them mentality that we have fought to move away from.

On top of that, television is big business and private businesses look to make money.  Black shows just haven’t really achieved that goal for networks in a long time – at least not the kind of money they’re are looking for.  When you look at the ratings over the years, black shows haven’t held top spots since the Cosby show, which boils down to potential advertisers keeping their wallets tightly closed.  From a purely business perspective, studios just can’t justify pouring resources into what doesn’t net a significant return.  Charity is great, but it doesn’t keep the doors open.

Apart from the to-good-to-be-true inclusion theory, it’s really simply about numbers … and I’m not sure we can be mad at that.

Of course, some regulation is necessary to ensure there is no blatant discrimination in green lighting and casting and that at least some black faces appear on network TV, but the obligation of studios to honor diversity really only puts them on the hook for fairly representing the makeup of the US population (we comprise 13 percent).  We’re in a majority white country — with the wealth heavily skewed in favor of that population — and naturally, advertisers will largely cater to that group. Whether good, bad or indifferent, it the reality. Despite our spending power reaching an estimated $1.1 trillion by 2012 according to reports, we remain indirect targets for advertisers and not worthy — based on the numbers – of prime time representation.

With that realization, the onus is on our black networks to cater to black viewers.  BET, TV One, Centric, and a few newcomers that are still working through red tape all have limited funds, partly due to the same reason mentioned above, but shoulder the responsibility of meeting our entertainment needs.  They have to balance the task of creating new shows and presenting new opportunities for our black actors languishing in unemployment and regurgitating those shows that have already worn out their welcome because that’s all they can afford to do.  Beyond that, they also have to be all things to all black people, which increases the strain they’re under.  We talk bad about our networks due to their limitations, but we must realize that their hands are tied and recognize that we need them if we want any semblance of entertainment “made by us and for us.”

To the credit of those networks created to serve us, there has been a recent uptick of original shows presented by black owned and operated networks, which deserves applause.  Though relegated to cable, shows such as BET’s Reed Between the Lines and The Game  (picked up after CW ditched it) and TV One’ s “Life After” and “Unsung” series are oasis’ in the desert that is all-black shows on television.  Those channels are also home to the awards shows we love to hate.

Atlanta-based TBS also deserves an honorable mention for housing Tyler Perry’s uber-black productions, “Meet the Browns” and the upcoming “For Better or For Worse.” The offerings are yet meager, but we’re definitely moving in the right direction.  And you may feel I’ve overlooked the dime-a-dozen reality shows featuring all-blacks, but … that’s another story entirely.