Link: How To Make It As A Black Sitcom: Be Careful How You Talk About Race on Huff Post Black Voices
Several people have sent this to me and I want to share it here. I haven’t been able to dissect it just yet, as it’s a long read, but it looks to be a really, really in depth piece discussing several decades of black sitcoms and comparing their successes and the ways in which they handle race. All of this as black-ish finds its legs and receives a full season pick-up. There are some great graphs and discussion of a proposed “era” system of black sitcoms from the 50s until now.
Cree Summer (@iamcreesummer) tweeted this photo of herself, Kadeem Hardison, Darryl Bell and Jasmine Guy hanging out. If only this meant everyone’s long felt desires if a reunion were happening. But this is good too! It’s wonderful to know that some casts become friends and keep in touch like this. I love it!
Also check out the Black Girl Nerds Podcast where we talk with Cree about her time on A Different World and her voice acting career! Love her!
It’s early pilot season, so it’s a good time to start looking at the shows coming to our screens in the fall. Let’s look at the shows with diverse casting or production staffs that have been greenlit by the network. This doesn’t mean they’ll air in Fall–that depends on various things and most decisions are put forth in May–but they’ve been approved to be shot.
One pilot to look for is Black-ish, starring Anthony Anderson. Here’s the TVLine description:
Black-ish (Comedy) [ABC]
EPs | Kenya Barris, Anthony Anderson, Laurence Fishburne, Helen Sugland, Tom Russo, Peter Principato, Paul Young, Brian Dobbins
CAST | Anthony Anderson (Guys With Kids)
An upper-middle class black man struggles to raise his children with a sense of cultural identity despite constant contradictions and obstacles coming from his liberal wife, old-school father and his own assimilated, color-blind kids
Sounds interesting. I hope it doesn’t go the way of Guys with Kids, which failed to really spark anything in me and I gave up after like 2 episodes. I think this wants to hearken back to the Cosby Show, which I loved, but updated for a modern era. The Cosby Show was more insulated in terms of who the kids hung out with than this sounds like it will be.
I wonder why there are so many executive producers, usually we get one or two main names, rather than the list of 8 like above. And is the last time ABC had a majority/all black comedy cast My Wife and Kids (another show it relates to in terms of being a black family comedy, but again, that show was very isolated in terms of who the family interacted with on camera)?
I’m not sure how I feel about the title, or some of the implications. I can only hope that while maintaining “cultural identity,” the show also focuses on and allows the kids and the family to like “non-traditional” things and it being ok or at least a plot point. I could see Anderson’s character trying to get his kids to like classic hip-hop but they like rock instead (just a random example). Which, it’s great and necessary for black children to know their culture and where they came from, but also realize that black people are not a monolith and can enjoy a variety of pursuits not traditionally seen as a part of black culture. A fine line to walk, but one that might be necessary going forward.
I hope we hear more about this.
for more, check TVLine’s Pilot Scoop Anthony Anderson to Star in ABC Comedy Pilot ‘Black-ish’.
Ramou Sarr wrote this article, which I found via justwriteray, which speaks about the importance for representations of black women on television. She bring up some really great points about the need for better representation in the media.
In such a social society, television is one of the things that really brings people together. Many of my friendships and conversations began after I realized someone liked a show that I did. It warms you up to another person because now you have something in common. It’s a strange feeling when you’re left out of a conversation because you’re the only person who doesn’t watch that show. This happens even on social media.
I didn’t even know what any of these people were reacting to, and yet I still needed to watch; I still wanted to be included somehow. That’s the power of television.
This communal aspect of television is layered, and perhaps the most significant facet of it is the idea that television often acts as an agent of socialization, offering us a glimpse into how we are both different and alike, and informs how we view and interact with one another. Television also has the power to impact how we view ourselves and, by seeing portrayals of people like us on television, tells us how society views us. Children’s shows often have lessons and exercises about diversity and inclusion because most of us want children to know about these things, and yet this portrayal of the world as a diverse and inclusive one is sorely lacking in the current state of television catered to adults.
And we also have to remember that children don’t just watch children’s shows, they watch adult tv shows too. Whether because their parents let them, or they sneak it, or it’s on simply while they’re in the room, kids watch grown up TV as well. Someone in a class about children’s books said that kids only read books about kids their age or older. After a while, kids want to watch adult TV shows and adult TV shows don’t have the same messages of inclusion and diversity, as Ramou mentions, that kids shows do. So kids stop learning the lesson. I’m in no ways saying regular network TV should have lessons or that they all need family values, but there are ways people learn from television. It’s in our homes every day; if there were more people of color on television, adults (and the kids who see these shows too) would have a better understanding of the wider world around them.
In terms of relatability, black women can, of course, establish connections with white television characters, and they do…
White people, and Asian people and Hispanic and every other nationality should find that they relate to black characters too. They shouldn’t (finally have to) create a black princess and then only see black children using that doll. If Rapunzel (who I love dearly) is a universal princess and is found everywhere, then Tiana, Mulan, and Pocahontas and Jasmine should be too. Same goes for television. Black shows shouldn’t be considered a risk for only drawing black audiences (which is a bigger market than given credit for); plenty of people who weren’t black grew up watching the Cosby Show and Fresh Prince and currently enjoy shows like Scandal. Black should be given the chance to be see as universal.
Representation of black women on television is important because black women are important.
This is so important. Black women often grow up not seeing themselves as important because they don’t see positive representations of themselves in the media. More representation means more people, of all colors, get to see more sides to the black experience: both the ways in which we are unique and the ways in which we are the same.
Check out Ramou’s full piece here: The Conversation | Honest Talk with Amanda de CadenetThe Conversation.
12 Television Writers of Color You Should Know – Flavorwire
Hopefully this list grows more and more as the 2014 pilot season arises.
Some of my favorites from this list:
Obviously Shonda Rhimes, creator of Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal. I am currently taking an TV writing class and decided to write a Scandal spec script. We’ll see how it goes.
Mindy Kaling – of the Mindy Project, obviously. I didn’t watch The Office, but I watch The Mindy Project and enjoy it’s rom-com style (when it sticks to it) Aisha Muharrar writes for Parks and Recreation. She wrote the following episodes: “Kaboom” (2.06) “Park Safety” (2.19) “Camping” (3.08) “Born & Raised” (4.03) “Operation Ann” (4.14) “Bus Tour” (4.21)”Ms. Knope Goes to Washington” (5.01) “Ron and Diane” (5.09) and this seasons Recall Vote. Yvette Lee Bowser wrote for A Different World and created Living Single. Two of my favorite black sitcoms. I need to check up on her other show Half and Half.
Check out the list for more, some of your favorite shows have writers of color you might not have known about. These writers are from Modern Family, The Killing, Hannibal, House, and Orange is the New Black!
First: Click here and skim Why Is ‘Sleepy Hollow’ A Hit? – Forbes, though I basically summarize it below.
Here are some reasons the Forbes gives for the success of my favorite new show of the season, Sleepy Hollow and some counterarguments. 1. “Choosing a young person, Emily Murray, as ‘Social Media Producer.'” 2. “Using Facebook and Twitter” (duh? What else would you use?), or I guess the point is knowing where your fans are hanging out (which is an excellent point–Castle, Doctor Who, and Supernatural fans rule Tumblr, Scandal and Sleepy Hollow are Twitter hits, no one is really using Facebook for this kind of thing). 3. “Collaborating internally.” I guess this means having the social media team and creatives and marketing people all work together to have gifs and images ready for the twitter experience; all of that requires multiple departments to work with the social media guys. 4. Focusing on the product, not the company.” or I guess, creating a community around the show not the network, but this is what every show does. Every show has a twitter account and makes it about the show. This isn’t a special thing Sleepy Hollow is doing. 5. Getting the actors to tweet. Yes, this is a huge helping, which they learned from shows like Scandal. Get everyone on board and people will retweet behind the scenes info or Orlando Jones being a hilarious doofball mentioning fanfiction and gifs in his tweets. 6. The twitter account having a back and forth “fight” with the twitter account from rival network show Elementary. Yes, this was funny to see and contributed to word of mouth. But the article, which is definitely tech/social media focused, didn’t at all think about the show or the fans it draws. Other shows do these very same things. They have show specific twitter accounts. They try to get their actors to live tweet. They have the marketing department draw up designs and posters that work with their live tweeting efforts. These aren’t the only factors.
The audience is a major factor, and who is in Sleepy Hollow‘s audience? The same kinds of people who are in Scandal’s audience. Young black (females mostly, but some males who reluctantly admit they watch either or both shows) people (what these young people call Black Twitter). The media hasn’t yet caught on that young African-Americans LOVE Twitter. And if you give us a show with a black lead, we will watch that show (because we don’t have many options with that factor, so we watch the ones that do until there are more options). And we will tweet about it to our other African-American friends on Twitter. And shows like Sleepy Hollow and Scandal, both with a black female lead, will skyrocket to the top of the tv ratings and social media discussion charts. Oh, but we don’t talk about this being a factor, do we? Nor do we discuss the fact that the person doing the most tweeting and connecting with the fans is Orlando Jones, a person of color. These things are certainly important.
Other shows have tried to mimic the formula of Scandal. They’ve done the same social media things that Sleepy Hollow is doing. And yet they’re not ratings phenomena. All because the networks and media coverage are hesitant to acknowledge the real reason these shows are blowing up: because people want to see diversity on their TV screens. They are more likely to tune in. They are more likely to tell their black/asian/hispanic/white/etc friends about it. And then the show get super popular and gets renewed for the next season 4 episodes in, like Sleepy Hollow did.
Don’t let social media take all the credit for this show’s success. I know that’s what the article was about, but in a discussion about social media, you should discuss the people who use social media, and their various idiosyncrasies. That’s the real way of understanding how to use it and what platforms are best.
Black TV 2013: Fall and Winter Preview | Old School 94.5.
Check out this article, which discusses some of the [network tv] shows airing this fall that feature black characters. It’s sad we still need articles like this to point the shows out, but it’s useful. Especially since when I last looked at NBC’s Thursday Comedy Lineup, I did not spy not one black person on the posters (as much as I looove love Parks and Rec, it doesn’t add much for NBC’s lead/co-star diversity).
I am about to watch Sleepy Hollow tonight and as yesterday’s post said, I watched Brooklyn 99 and was pleased by a diverse cast. I am also interested in Almost Human and I already watch Scandal. Glad to see that there is some color on network TV, but it’s a shame that most of these shows the black character is a co-star or supporting, not the main actor/lead character. Kerry and Blair Underwood (Ironside) are leads. The Originals seems to star the black lead, while Sleepy Hollow, Almost Human, and Brooklyn 99 seem to be a dual lead deal thing going on.)
Hopefully, if there are midseason replacement shows, we can get some more diversity on network television (or some break out supporting minority characters who get increased storylines), because it feels like an all-time low right now. (Is Brooklyn 99 the only network sitcom starring a black person right now? With Mindy making 2 shows with minority leads? If there are others, let me know…)
“Last I read the last African-American/ Black sitcom that aired on a major TV network in the U.S was 6 years ago. 6 years.”
“Black sitcoms were, in many respects, a TV sub-genre that presented to viewers love, respect and fun. And through these sitcom shows, they demonstrated that it was possible to come from and be from an minority group- and STILL be successful and happy without resorting to derogatory stereotypes and buffoonery that elicits the very stereotypes Black people have fought and challenged throughout the years. And of which they continue to do so to this day.”
Check out this post from a UK citizen’s perspective on black television in America. Even from abroad, they recognize that there is a severe lack of representation of black people on American television, especially the major networks. 6 years is a long time. And that seems to go for dramas too. Not too many dramas on network TV starring black people (and this is me including them as the lead, not as a token but as a focus. Won’t even bother trying to find a drama where there are more than one.) and right now we only have Kerry Washington on Scandal. I just saw an ad for NBC’s Thursday night line up–no black people to be seen. =(
I knew I wasn’t the only one with these thoughts on what the black sitcom is missing today. I just need myself and more people to help networks see that shows like this are worth greenlighting. And audiences to actually watch them.
(And the Nielson ratings system to die or be seriously upgraded because people like me (basically non-middle of the country who doesn’t watch CBS) don’t get our voices heard so shows we want to watch don’t get the “ratings” they need to survive. That’s a rant for another post.)