Fixing The Void in Black Television

In the 80’s and 90’s, sitcoms like the Cosby Show and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air were our safe haven when it came to television. Wide in variety with everything from drama to comedy, black people were finally becoming a part of regularly aired programming. Channels like Black Entertainment Television (B.E.T.) were beginning to peak and black shows on different stations were in abundance. Good Times, The Jeffersons, Martin, In Living Color, and Girlfriends were a few of the many popular shows. After struggling for years to be more than the hired help on television, our community was breaking ground. Fast forward to 2011, and the only black show that anyone can think of is The Game. Daily it’s becoming more and more difficult to find any African-American programming even on stations deemed made for “Black Entertainment” and viewers are becoming more in need. All we’re stuck with is repetitive reruns from the era of black television that is now over. Where has black programming gone?

In earlier years B.E.T. was filled with shows that branched out across all age groups, from Video Soul, Rap City, Midnight Love, B.E.T. News, and College Hill there was something for everyone. Now the station consists of 10 songs a day on teen-based 106th and Park and a motivational-style late show, Monique. The other twenty-two hours are nothing more than Baby Boy and Tyler Perry reruns as well as a variety of B-rated black films in the evening. Episodes of two or three black shows in syndication during the afternoon finish the line-up. Recently B.E.T. caught a break by airing new episodes of the hit series previously owned by The CW, The Game, but they’ve even seemed to diminish that with cheap production and rushed scripts. What was once a platform for black television is now an empty vessel, slowly becoming a channel that is no longer relevant.

Despite the lack of a black presence on television some have already begun making an effort. In 2004 Comcast and Radio One launched TvOne. TvOne is a station for African-Americans with a wide range of programming, including lifestyle, documentaries, and entertainment-oriented shows. It’s available in over 38 million homes and though it isn’t a part of basic cable many prefer it over B.E.T. With viewers no longer engaged even B.E.T. is attempting to make some change. Following the successful viewership of The Game, executive producers of the show, married couple Salim and Mara Brock Akil, inked a multi-year production deal with the network. Mara is the creator of Girlfriends and Salim is the director of summer box office hit Jumping The Broom. The two are set to produce more sitcoms and web series over the course of three years. One of the shows headed for the fall line up is Reed Between The Lines, a family comedy staring Tracee Ellis Ross and Malcolm-Jamal Warner.

Black college students even have something to look forward to. Curtis Symonds is launching the Atlanta based HBCU Network set to premiere in August and run throughout the entire nation by February of next year. The Network has partnered up with ESPN and will heavily feature sports at Black colleges as well as lifestyle, health, entertainment, and education programming. Symonds believes that HBCU’s provide a valuable audience. “HBCU students and alums are some of the most loyal and passionate fans you’ll ever come across. They bleed the colors of their teams and it’s time all of us got more of what we’ve all been craving for what seems an eternity.”

Other demographics in black programming are also being reached. Broadcasting & Cable recently reported that developing channel Black Heritage Network (BHN) is in serious talks with major distributors. The Black Heritage Network is a channel for the more mature and has a target audience of the late twenties to early fifties. They believe this audience isn’t currently being served. The channel won’t feature any scripted programming but will feature reality and history based shows as well as classic movies with cultural relevance. Reingold the CEO of the forming network describes it as a mixture of the Discovery Channel and History Channel. The station hopes to launch in December.

With new Networks and shows forming all hope with black programming isn’t lost but many questions are still being raised. What about the large number of people who can’t afford to spend extra money on cable and satellite bills to view these new networks? Must they settle for the images of blacks on reality television that serve as the only visual they witness of themselves on tv? When will the days where Blacks were integrated into the line-up of basic cable return? Have African-American stations that held the responsibility of showing other companies the value in having black shows dropped the ball due to the lack of recent programming? How long before we have a network that caters not only specific demographics and groups of blacks but a station where African-Americans are represented as a whole resulting in great television for everyone.


2 Comments on "Fixing The Void in Black Television"

  1. JCB3 Jun 1, 2011 · 10:30 am

    Looking forward to the new mediums. So tired of our entertainment being led by low-intelligence Tyler Perry Productions.

    I’m also disappointed with the writing on “The Game” since it moved to BET. Shame.

  2. India Jun 1, 2011 · 1:44 pm

    I agree! Im tired of watching the same low rate black movies on BET or black movies about violence. I’m definitely tired of these reruns; looking forward to these networks and new sitcoms!

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