With Monique doing her thing on BET and House of Pain on TBS blacks on television has somehow just become extinct. I know I have said something about this black out before but this time I’m focusing on African Americans contributions and how it means nothing now. I mean during a time where there were only three channels African Americans played a major part in television history. Now you can get five hundred channels and unless you’re watching some of those same classic shows in syndication how many black shows are out there? I know it shouldn’t even be a question, it shouldn’t have been one the last time I brought this up, but it is the question. The reason it shouldn’t be a question because there was a time black shows were just shows that had an all to majority black cast. Cast only most of the time when you say black shows because black writers are still rare to find and were almost non-existence on black shows.
So is this a case of African Americans not knowing their past or simply a disregard for what contributions African Americans played in televisions success in the past? Well it’s a mix of both really. Everyone knows or should know Nat King Cole, but not many know he was the first mainstream black to have his own show. There were a few rules Nat King Cole had to follow due to race issues in order to keep things from getting out hand like not coming off flirty with the white women. The ratings were ok and from I heard he chose to stop the show even though NBC was willing to try to figure out to do to get sponsors. The show wasn’t a failure because of the show itself but the racism of the time made sponsors bail Nat King Cole himself was one of the biggest stars in general black or white at that time and it’s sad that even that has be lost in his legacy. Then there is Flip Wilson, who if it wasn’t for him there wouldn’t have been a door for Pryor and his one season attempt at a skit show. That opened the door for In Livin Color and Chappelle Show to be wild and raw. Bill Cosby gave us Fat Albert which is totally tame compared to The Boondocks. Other than Fat Albert the only other black cartoon before The Boondocks was the one The Jackson 5 had. I remember seeing those cartoons as a child, it was like an animated A Hard Days Night for The Jackson 5. If you’ve never seen The Beatles movie you won’t really get that reference at all, so I mean it was like cartoon videos for their hits at the time. It’s sad how other shows you have that are black cartoons were on The Disney Channel and not many black kids saw them during the late 90’s and early 2000’s. Most of that falls on the shoulders of Nickelodeon and The Cartoon Network as well as those Pokemon card game knock offs that run shit now. There seem to be no need to make minority shows, even Dora The Explore was close to being dropped around the time it was really reaching a broader audience by coming on CBS and a different time on Nickelodeon.
Speaking of Bill Cosby the man was on I Spy and even got an Emmy for being on the show. I remember thinking it had to be a comedy since “Dr.” Cosby is a comedian. It was a drama and Cosby was far from comic relief on the show. And that was the template for not just black comedians but comedians to be taken serious when expanding their acting resume. And speaking of Cosby while most of the black family shows seem to follow the pattern of being financially well off like the Huxtables, they all lacked the black awareness The Cosby Show had. From the paintings, the music being played and musicians who appeared to the actors who graced the show Cosby showcased a lot of African Americans one way or another on his show. Yet still both The Cosby Show and It’s A Different World have yet to be resurrected by shows that embody what they did as shows. I mean with all the rich white kids shows popping up they all can still be traced back 90210. Yes they’ve updated the formula but at the end of the day it is what it is so much so that 90201 was remade. And I know I may be stretching it a bit you can’t tell me Lost is everything Gilligan’s Island would have been if it had been a drama. And every cop show can go all the way back to the black and white days as well as lawyer and hospital dramas. Yet there definitely hasn’t been a show like It’s A different World at all since it went off the air.
Diahann Carroll falls in that same boat. With black sitcoms now a thing of the past, it was once the ONLY thing you were guaranteed to see when an African American show was given the green light. Diahann Carol however broke ground in a lot of ways with her show Julia. Julia was a single mother nurse in a sitcom that didn’t follow any stereotypes of the time for black people let alone black women. Again nothing like it has even been attempted again at all for black female. During the time of the show there were single middle aged women but not single mothers working a job and you could bet they weren’t going to be black. Whether people know this or not Ester Roll fought to make sure that Florida, her character on Good Times, was married with the husband living there with the family. As we all know CBS got what they wanted from the beginning, which was a single mother, and even though the show still went on to be successful it was very noticeable how much was lost with the lost of the farther James.
One of the biggest disregards in modern television history has to be the total avoidance of what Arsenio Hall achieved. You think It’s A Different World has gotten a bad deal in television history, Arsenio was giving The Tonight Show a run for its money during the time it was on the air. On any given night it beat out the NBC institution. The Arsenio Hall Show was considered the show for the MTV generation. You want to know how bad of a raw deal Arsenio has gotten just look at Conan O’Brien. Konan is already in talks with Fox about a show, and when David Letterman got jerked by NBC CBS was ready to pick him up. Yet Arsenio had no such calls by anyone at all. I mean even Bill Maur got the HBO hook up after ABC dropped him for his 9/11 comment so it’s not like the world of cable television couldn’t have reached out. Dennis Miller and D.L. Hugly both ended up on News Networks at some point in their careers. Yet the last big gig Arsenio had was some in the early 2000 or 2001 with the new Star Search. It was billed as of course the original American Idol and Arsenio was the host. The show sucked and couldn’t beat out Idol and Arsenio never looked comfortable at all. But it took like six to seven years to get a gig when you were voice for a generation. I mean there aren’t even any DVD box sets being sold for his show I don’t think.
African Americans aren’t really concerned with the lack of involvement into todays world of television at all I think. One reason is because as long as BET is still around no one will complain, which makes my hatred for the network that much stronger. Network television has made it an effort to not do anything about the lack of minority shows as well. Meaning there are physiological statements implied with the lack of minority shows. The same way Ester Roll didn’t want to fall into any negative stereotypes of fatherless black families with Good Times, a bigger negative stereotype is to not see shows focused on people of color black and brown who when they are seen on TV in major roles it’s as criminals in the news. African Americans are nothing more than tokens again even if they are major characters of a show. With all the doors that have been broken down in the past we somehow lost focus so much so that we have yet to pay attention that the doors are up again with new stronger locks.