Where Have The Black Sitcoms Gone?

Take a journey with me. Lets go way back. I’m talking more than 10 years. I can recall a time when I was actually excited for 7 o’clock on a week night because I knew that my favorite Black shows would be coming on. Shows like A Different World, The Cosby Show, Living Single, Martin, Family Matters, Fresh Prince Of Bel Aire, The Parent Hood , Roc and so on. Then, nothing compared to African American Entertainment. The thirty minutes (minus commercials) of visual pleasure that they gave me stays with me to this day. In fact thinking of these shows puts a smile on my face and I still become excited when I catch reruns. These shows were part of the 90’s movement that displayed successful African Americans living their lives. They gave us a subculture that installed in us that Black love existed, Black people were business minded and that it was possible for you to be from the hood and still be successful without “selling out”. For some who never saw that lifestyle first hand in their own lives likes myself they gave me something to aspire to. They confirmed the complexities that sometimes accompanies being an African American. The dualities that many of us go through in our career versus our home life. Most importantly, they were FUNNY. They were funny without having the stereotypical coon images or having constant slap hi jinx from the African American cast. No there was no need for the Black faced negro shucking and jiving his way to higher ratings while popping gum. They kept it real AND kept it balanced.

I am disappointed in African American television today because it glorifies the same stereotypes that we have tried for years to fight. There is no balance within the characters. They are usually extremely ghetto or the polar opposite. In fact, I would go as far as to say that there isn’t any quality African American programming currently on TV. The new wave of reality shows and newly aired shows like TV One’s Love That Girl for instance have the same simple stereotypical characters. Therefore they do not count as far as quality Black programming. For instance the lead characters brother in Love That Girl wants to be a stand up comic but refuses to work meanwhile to support himself. Instead he slums off his newly Real Estate licensed sister. Another example would be the receptionist at the Father’s Real Estate Office who can never seem to utter a sentence without chewing gum and doing some type of hand or neck motion to emphasize her point. As far as reality show madness, VH1 takes the cake with their array of African American reality series which displays images like Black women fighting over some washed up African American talent who is “looking for love”. Sure….. Or my newly favorite annoyance! The new Fantasia Barrino reality series where.. guess what.. she too has a family who refuses to work and would rather slum off her. More specifically her big, grown, ashy brother who seems to be floating through life without a care in the world, expecting her to financially support him, while Fantasia struggles to revive her singing career and care for her own child. Seeing previews for that show makes me quiver with annoyance inside out every time. Every time.

The other shows that reach popularity on TV that feature African Americans are other reality series like Keyshia Cole’s The Way It Is. I did not have too much of a problem with Keyshia’s behavior on the show but her family! Wow. If there was a casting for stereotypical ghetto people to be put on blast they would meet the criteria. I never even bothered to watch a full episode of the Frankie And Neffie reality show. Nope, that madness was not going to be a part of my reality. Nor was the drama filled show that is Real Housewives Of ATL. Helping to facilitate the stereotype that Black women are catty and cannot play nice together.

To be honest, I am not even upset with Keyshia Cole or her family. They are just being themselves and collecting a check for their foolery. I am more upset with the networks who are choosing to portray such low quality images of African Americans. It would be different if we already had primarily African Americans shows that displayed us in a more positive light but we don’t. Therefore there is no balance. Therein lies the problem.

The handful of recent shows that did show African Americans in a positive light and with characteristic balance, meaning they were not over the top ghetto or so engulfed in the 90210 lifestyle that the average middle class African American could not relate to the characters were quickly taken off the air. Or they were only allowed a few seasons and abruptly ended. Think the Girlfriends and The Game, (I cannot be the only one who felt that Girlfriends did not receive a proper series finale).

The truth of the matter is that we are lacking in Black entertainment television so when there is a new show I immediately become excited and want to give it a fair shot. So far, I continue to be disappointed and have to turn to box sets of DVD’s of old shows or searches online for my quality African American programming. No not everyone is a “high class negro” but not everyone is on the corner shooting dice either. Frankly, I really do not want to see either. Where is the balance I ask you! Where?

They say that the media responds to what we demand and to what we express the need for. If that is the case then I am insulted at the notion that the networks feel that there is not a demand for quality African American programming. Either that or they feel that it will not be successful, so they do not attempt to put anything close to a positive Black image on prime-time. It is as if the only way we can secure a show is if we are shucking and jiving. Shuck or jive or fear cancellation. Someone needs to remind them that the African American audience is a mosaic of individuals who yearn to see shows that have more complex topics than what a reality series for a has been celebrity, an R and B singers family or a rappers baby moma can provide.

Oh Well, there are always reruns…..

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  1. I feel you on that and i would love to see more quality African American shows out such as the cosby show or Fresh Prince. But the people who are in charge of these companies are in it for the money like everywhere else. Back in the late 80’s to 90’s those shows where the ones making money it was a trend now its has faded. The new trend seems like reality shows every station you turn to is a new reality show. Now the key word there is reality so they want to find the African Americans that are ghetto then African Americans like me and you can say look at these fools acting up I would never act in such a manner. In a couple of years I am sure a new TV show trend will arrive. But I have family and friends that find most of these reality TV shows entertaining as do I they are something to watch.

  2. SO TRUE!!! Couldnt have put it better myself. Someone please answer the question WHY The Game and Girlfriends have been taken off air?? Especially The Game! That was hands-down the best show on TV I’ve seen in a WHILE!

  3. I agree with many of your assessments because I really felt The Game and Girlfriends were quality shows. My issue is why are African-Americans dependent on white networks to promote our shows. Hispanics have several networks that cater to the variety in their population, so why are WE still depending on the major networks for opportunity? Collectively, we have POWER but we fail to use it. There are many successful Black actors/actresses that have been on mainstream television for years, where are the networks? If you can recall, each time a new network needed to build a solid, core audience base, they had a line-up of shows aimed at African American audiences. After they became successful, they canceled the black shows and replace them with more mainstream shows(ie..NBC, FOX, WB). By now, we should have several networks with a range of black shows. Isn’t it time to stop asking someone else to deliver the content we like.

  4. Also, why do we bash the Black shows that don’t appeal to us and characterize them as coonery or buffoonery, yet whites are allowed to express different facets of their society without being judged. The women on the Real Housewives of Atlanta are no different than the Real Housewives of Orange County, New York and New Jersey. Most of the women are catty but no one stereotype all white women as being manipulative and conniving. I did not like Frankie and Neffe’s show because there was nothing about the show that I could relate to, but I don’t relate to The Girls Next Door (Hugh Hefner) either but I don’t hear white women classify them (young, blond girls and an old man) as money, hungry prostitutes or golddiggers. African Americans are not monolithic and we have to learn that no one brush paints the entire black image.

  5. i feel the same way revise Different World and bring us new Girlfriends Show

  6. I agree w/ this article…..with all these damn reality shows Is really hard now for sitcoms to come back…..that’s why I miss the 90’s (sticoms,music)ect… smh It’s just terrible how we been brainwashed

  7. @ sepiastar
    i have always wondered the same thing. hispanics have their own….why can’t we? we are creative and very versatile. those sitcoms “yeah i said it” listed are major proof we can. what happened? my mother has always said…if it isn’t the whole “one black person on a majority white show, then it is a coon show” that is always pushed at us now. girlfriends was really good. wished it had an ending. the game was nice. wish they would finish that too. but anyway, i miss real sitcoms. funny. not trying to be trendy or “in the now” but just down right funny.

    what’s you guys opinion of “everybody hates chris”? personally, it’s the only reason i dare look towards a television. i have distanced myself from tv, radio and almost have the internet at bay….as you can see i’m still on here so i’m still trying to give this up completely….but i like it. ooh and the bernie mac show was hilarious. ahh….memories.

  8. @ tutu
    haha. we can sit her and conspiracy theorize till the cows come home. actually i’m very good at it.

    but in a way ya can’t help but feel that they are trying to get rid of us.
    for instance, the flinstones, there we no black people on that show. now consider the futuristic “the jetsons”. no black people at all. but here is where i dug a bit deeper. the flinstones had those dinosaurs and animals that did everything they didn’t dare do…working for them. black folk. the jetsons had robots doing things for them that they have become accustomed to not doing. black folk. ahh…..i do this for laughs.

  9. Black sitcoms have gone the way popular Black music is headed: the gutter. Great write-up. I’ll expound more later; currently in traffic. Lol.

  10. I’m so shocked AND happy you posted this. This is exactly what my husband and I have been saying for so long. We miss old shows, like Cosby, Fresh Prince, Jeffersons & What’s Happening. I could not have said it better myself. I feel that the balance is long gone. If they are not portraying high-sadiddy black folks, they’re showing crack heads, backstabbing women, drug dealers and problem kids in school. I really want to see a change. I love Tyler Perry but his movies & sitcoms are the same way. He is always portraying black people down and out or ridiculously rich. I grew up in a well balanced stable home, thank God. None of that was part of my life. Yes, I saw crackheads etc, but there was no crazy drama in our home. I think we should be the change we want to see in our homes. Since TV is so influental, we should portray stability. I’m praying for that change.

  11. Okay I read this entire post and some other post i.e the one about Shonda Rhimes, complaining about why we do or do not portray Black people a certain way. This is the way I feel about it, the reason Black people are portrayed a certain way is because most Black people act a certain way. I am black and love every inch of my Blackness but sometimes Black people can be ignorant. Yall know I aint lying, I have read a few posts and some of yall arguing back and forth to each other about something that doesn’t deserve that kind of attention “Beyonce” If I didn’t know any better I would think Beyonce was leaving comments herself acting like someone elser. Face it there are more Black people who can relate to Tyler Perry shows that who could relate to the Cosby’s. People like Tyler Perry and Shonda Rhimes has to go to where the money is. If they change the game up and try to please the Black people who don’t like what they are doing they could screw themselves. Half of ya’ll wouldn’t watch a good show if you saw one anyways. Ya’ll complaints would then be that the show is too unrealistic. Please! Sometimes we Black people are too hard to please, and most importantly we are too hard on one another. I am new to this site and the site is called “Brown Sista” I was expecting to get on here and see some positivity about black women and I get on here and it’s the opposite. Someone posted something about Meagan Good, and some of you were talking about she looks bad, and she looks like she was on drugs, and you hate her make-up, hair, etc. I was immediatly turned off. There is always a “but”, she looks cute “but”, she sounds good “but”, they make a cute couple “but”… why not just be happy that we have brown sistas and brothers who are doing it for themselves. Don’t nobody pull us down like we pull each other down. You can go to a club and see a woman with a badd outfit on and she wearing it well, not very many sista’s will give her her props, instead we say something negative about her, and roll oue eyes. I have seen it happen too many times honey! Not saying that white people don’t do it, but we got it bad! Oh and before I forget about the post on Reggie Buch and Kim K. OMG!!! Why even post something so stupid! Who cares who he date?? Rather he likes white or black women, and we shouldn’t praise him because he don’t even date black women! People are so ignorant. Enough said on that one!

  12. @Pray For The Children. ha ha nice. At least someone sees what I’m saying. Great dissection btw. There are so many questions… I don’t know what we are gonna do. Even the one station that is supposed to cater to us black folk…now does nothing to write home about. Its a wonder why they cannot seem to fit us into television… Aren’t we a part of everyday society??? in this day and age, the only roles and positions we seem to get are the same baseless, bottom of the pot roles (especially in movies) they give roles that can be played by anybody, or they could have absolutely done without all together. Like Liyah is saying I grew up in a balanced, decent, home, with education being our objective. Why can we not be portrayed in a decent light? I just do not get it. They brought us here….I don’t know man… oooh by the way, and this is random… but Pray For The Children, Liyah and anybody else, where do you think our artists influences, or lack thereof, past and present apply?

  13. I think a lot of Black people noticed this. It started out bad, then it got better and back to bad again.

    History repeats itself..
    Started off with minstrel shows, mammies, etc; then came Cosby’s, and all that, now we have flavor of love, Tyler Perry and other crap.
    It’ll change again….

    Bill made his family appealing to white people. He made the white man feel safe having his kids watch a black family on TV. He was a doctor, wife lawyer, all his kids are light skinned as well as Alvin and olivia. He tailored his show to hit the network ratings and to appeal to the audience that advertisers wanted. Any network would air an all black casted show if it hit the ratings numbers. The problem is how do you do that without compromising authenticity and appeal to the black viewer. My 2cents. Peace.

  15. No, all of his children were not lightskin- he had 5 children and 2 of them were: Sandra and Denise. The other 3: Theo, Vanessa and Rudy were very brown skin.

  16. @TEDDYP

    So are you saying Bill should of made a show with a dead-beat dad, a loud and crazy baby mama, and ghetto bay-bay kids?
    And only 2 out of 5 of his kids were lightskinned? So I think you’re just trying to start something.

  17. @ tutu
    thanks. haha.
    i grew up in a good home. my mother was/is very well educated. she wanted me to be the same as well. my mother conducted herself in a certain way. she wanted me to as well. we didn’t live the nicest places but we were fine. i can’t say i’ve always gotten what i wanted, but i’ve always gotten what i needed. she was a hard worker taking care of a sickly child all on her own….being that we aren’t american it was always harder for that very reason. but we were fine. never have we ever been like these “black folks” on tv(now). we weren’t extra crazy or the ignorant type. we definitely weren’t the rich and uncaring type either. we worked and did what we had to do. it seems as if there is no balance in the way we are portrayed. i want to sit here and blame “the man” all day but we are responsible for this two. at some point we just decided to buy into this type of behavior. now we are at this point where the man thinks this is how we act….he feeds it to us…..some of us buy into it…..so much so that there are those who glamorize or accept what they see and either try their hardest to be like it or feel proud for being like it.

    i myself have always wondered why is it that the black actor always takes that part in the movie where they die withing the first 4 mins. of the movie or they are the “ghetto” ignorant person who ends up dying anyway. why don’t all those small actors just leave those parts to someone else. we are so much better than that. it’s rare for the black person to make it half way through the movie…..more over to make it to the end without dying or being the typical black image we see. i mean if those actors never went for those parts…..would there be a point in writing them into the movie? but that’s just me man.

    to answer your question, their influences strongly affect how they portray themselves or are willing to portray themselves. it doesn’t have to be a person to influence them….like i said before it can be what they see on tv. what slowly becomes the “norm”. what they have decided to expose themselves to….so now that this is what they think it protocol…..we are forced to deal with it. everybody is doing the same thing. so this is all we have to choose from, in a way.

  18. @ teddyp
    so are you saying that it is a bit much for a man to be a doctor with a wife that is a lawyer….have two children who are fairer than the rest and still be black at the same time?
    i don’t get what you mean.

  19. I’m not saying that Bill should have done anything different. He made a hit show and paved the way for other shows like fresh prince and Family Matters to name a few. All I’m saying is that he was smart enough to find a formula that worked for the masses not just a few. Here is an example. Goodtimes was a great show but very different then Bills show. It had better actors and real stories but is know by very few people. If you are going to argue that it is very well known you are wrong. Go ask someone to name all the kids in good times. They can’t, now do the same with the Cosby show. My point is that it takes some selling out to make a hit show. I’m not knocking Bill for it, I’m just saying that it is sad that that is the way it is.

  20. Well, black sitcoms have been going down the tubes since Moesha but every network has systematically erased all of them. I can only think of one or two that are left now and that’s the Tyler Perry shows and KeKe Palmer’s

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