Thursday, May 21, 2009

Hey!! Where did all the black sitcoms go?....Revisited

Last year at this exact same time I wrote an article about the decrease in black sitcoms (right here) and spoke about how they were hanging on to a thread with only The Game and Everybody Hates Chris as the portioned genre's sole representatives. A year on and as of today US & UK have NO black sitcoms left. Stateside, The CW Channel announced that The Game would not be renewed for a fourth season nor will Everybody Hates Chris for a fifth one leaving the country with only re-runs and the occasional reality shows. How did it get to this?

What happened to the plethora of writers/creators that made such great shows as Girlfriends, My Wife & Kids or One on One.....nothing. So why no shows? The networks will tell you lack of viewers which would be true in the result of any cancellation of any sitcom but it's a little bit deeper than that. I'm gonna try and steer clear from the racism route but you have to pay attention to how TV execs minds work when it comes to ethnic representation. In the US there are 5 networks that gather the most viewers of sitcoms...CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox and CW. The first four I would class as primary networks as people watch everything on those channels where as CW would be a secondary network. When shows such as the Fresh Prince were at their peak they were being shown in the primary networks, which solidified more viewers and a bigger fan base. Fast forward to now and all the "ethnic" related comedies are being put on secondary networks; CW is a great network but with it's programming only marketed towards a certain target group it will always fall short especially if airing sitcoms up against other sitcom competitors on other channels.

Hilarious sitcoms such as Two & a Half Men & Scrubs are given even more chances to flourish because they're on primary networks. Its time for TV execs to stop putting black sitcoms in a box and actually air them to a wide range of viewers. UK's situation is even worse with Trouble (the only channel that showed more than two black sitcoms, re-runs or not) being taken off Sky leaving us with ANTM all day. We haven't seen a UK sitcom in 6 years and that was The Crouches (nothing to be proud of). I cant help but think the failure of The Crouches has made TV networks in the UK cautious and unwilling to risk another one.

So is this the last we've seen of a black sitcom anywhere period?

Click on the seasons to see The Game - Season 2 | Season 3

"All television is educational television. The question is, what is it teaching?"

2 comments so far....:

Shanti said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shanti said...

Mayne, this was gonna be my weekend post! But I will speak on it anyway by commenting.

I agree with the whole primary/secondary network theory. I think execs want to play it safe and not risk losing their viewers, especially if they are unsure how an 'ethnic sitcom' will be received. But it's a catch 22 situation because without taking a risk, how will they know whether they are missing out on a hit? In these harsh economic times especially for the broadcast industry due to the lack of finance via advertising, it's worrying that things are not going to change any time soon - playing it safe and sticking to a 'sure-thing' is seen as the most economically sound option. Also, what is the incentive to commission and run an 'ethnic' sitcom? Scrubs, 30 Rock etc resonate with a range of different communities. Moving slightly away from sitcoms, how many Black, Asians, Chinese people watched Sex & The City, Friends or are addicted to Desperate Housewives? Many, but those programmes featured no ethnic lead characters. They were just good programmes. Therefore, is there a need for specialist and targeted programming when a programme with mass appeal touches all bases? Playing the devil's advocate here, but this is what execs may be thinking so again I ask, what is the incentive?

I think a revolution is needed -I apologise for the theatrical tone but we need something fresh, a new format aside from the typical Eve's, Half and Half's and The Game. I was at a Ghanaian Union function not too long ago - gotta keep in touch with the culture people - and something one of the elders said stayed with me. There are so many smaller unions and inspiring individuals that are all doing great things to represent Ghana, however they are not doing it collectively - it's too fragmented so no one union can make the impact that they intend to. So in that same spirit, I think what is needed is a more collective approach....(Lightbulb!!!!) Power and strength in numbers people, combine creativity and business sense then maybe we can give the networks something worth taking notice of.

L.Mayne, I'll be in touch...

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