Friday, May 19, 2006

So Long, Black Primetime Shows

Now that all the fall schedules are out (Fall Lineup Frenzy posts will be coming in the next few days), there is a hint of sadness as six African-American-lead shows are cancelled. The vast majority of the casualties came from the merger of The WB and UPN into The CW.

Here are the shows that are lost:

  • The Bernie Mac Show (FOX)

  • Half & Half (UPN)

  • Cuts (UPN)

  • Eve (UPN)

  • One On One (UPN)

  • Love, Inc. (UPN)

The following shows are now left:

  • Everybody Hates Chris (The CW)

  • All Of Us (The CW)

  • Girlfriends (The CW)

There is also a brand new show called The Game that is a spinoff of Girlfriends. It will premiere in the fall on The CW.

I know a lot of people hated on the "UPN shows." White people hated on them because, well, they didn't have that "universal" appeal (read: they didn't understand the humor). Some black people hated on the shows because they felt they were terrible and took us back a peg (ex: Aaron McGruder, creator of The Boondocks). I enjoyed watching most of them. At their best, they were fun to watch. It was nice to see black people living and loving like regular people on TV. On mostly white sitcoms, black people are usually relegated to thankless best friend or sidekick roles if they even appear at all. Only the best "white" sitcoms (like Scrubs) are able to give those types of characters real depth.

There are two things that get me about the UPN/CW cancellations. First, some of the shows that were cancelled had either gotten better or had hit their stride. Cuts started out kind of lame but got funnier as it went on. Marques Houston proved that he is a pretty decent comedic actor. Half & Half was one of my favorite shows on UPN. I liked the diverse cast of solid actors. They had good chemistry together and the storylines were actually pretty good. I think that show could've gotten better if it had the chance to stay on.

The other thing about the cancellations is that the shows that were kept (excluding Everybody Hates Chris) are not exactly the best. All Of Us lost some of its appeal in its recent retooling. It was never that great of a show to begin with, even with Will and Jada behind the scenes. Girlfriends started off good but has started to get bad in the past couple of years. It seems like there is now more drama than comedy and some of the characters have become worse for the wear. I think it's going downhill.

However, the one cancellation that I am saddest about is that of The Bernie Mac Show. It has become the latest victim of FOX's notorious jerking around. This show stayed consistent throughout its run. However, it was moved around a lot in its final years. In its last season, it was barely promoted, put on Fridays, and did not premiere until quite late…even for FOX. For a show that was one of the best live-action comedies on FOX, it went out with a whimper instead of the bang that That 70's Show and Malcolm In The Middle did. Although what ended up being the show's finale was a nice way to end it, I really wish the people behind the show were notified ahead of time so that it could get a proper final episode.

Overall, things aren't looking good for African-American-lead television. Next season, all the black comedies that The CW will air will be moved to Sunday nights. This move reminds me of how The WB put its black comedies on Sundays in the last years they had them on. I think that, gradually, The CW will cancel the black shows and not replace them with anything black-oriented. This is the tactic that FOX and The WB both used in the past and The CW will probably do it again in the near future.

In the end, I don't know what to make about how it seems that white audiences will very rarely watch a show with a black lead. Does this prove that when we watch TV, we want to see ourselves represented over anyone else? Does it prove that whites (and blacks) would rather watch not-so-good shows that feature characters that they can easily relate to than good shows that feature characters different from them? I've always liked watching a variety of TV shows including those that may not have me as part of their target audience. I loved watching Arrested Development. When I can catch it, I enjoy George Lopez. When it was on, I loved watching Frasier. I'm 25 years old and I still like The OC. Unfortunately for many of the shows (especially comedies) that aren't driven by a white star, there aren't more people who seek out good entertainment regardless of the intended audience.

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