Skip to main content

View Diary: Overnight News Digest: El Dorado Edition (42 comments)

Comment Preferences

  •  The Last "Black" Sitcom That Was A Top 10 Hit (13+ / 0-)

    When analyzing the pop culture of the '80s, "The Cosby Show" has been the subject of much scrutiny & debate ,since it was one of the first TV programs to depict an upper class African-American family. And that family was not depicted as explicitly "Black," but just an American family dealing with issues like any other family.

    Some argue that one of the show's legacies is that it provided a positive depiction of African-Americans and an African-American family. On the other side of things, some (like David Sirota) have argued that the show was too tame in acknowledging race & dealing with the issues that surround it.

    However, "A Different World," a show that was originally a Lisa Bonet spinoff of "The Cosby Show," was much more topical & issue oriented. Set at the fictional Black College Hillman, it is the last African-American oriented sitcom that was a top 10 show in the Nielsen ratings.

    Why is that?

    From the A.V. Club:

    In his essential memoir depicting his life in the TV-writing trenches, Billion-Dollar Kiss, Jeffrey Stepakoff gives the most succinct answer to a perpetual question in television circles: Whatever happened to the black sitcom? In the ’70s, series like The Jeffersons, Sanford & Son, and Good Times were Nielsen mainstays, all with either black leads or predominantly black casts... Stepakoff’s explanation is at once complex and simple. It stems from a series he worked on named Hyperion Bay, a little-known WB teen drama that’s mostly notable for its original premise, which would have revolved around an interracial relationship. The network’s suits eventually nixed that idea, and Stepakoff’s explanation boils down, essentially, to money. Since the early ’80s, networks have increasingly chased younger viewers, usually in the 18-to-49-year-old demographic, because said viewers are supposed to spend their money more freely and be more likely to try out new brands. Thus, they’re more attractive to the advertisers who underwrite the broadcast-network business model.

    That’s all well and good, in terms of profit, but the pursuit of almighty demographics has also had the effect of making television whiter and whiter, precisely at the same time that the United States has had a non-white population growing more quickly than the white one. This has all changed a bit in the past few years, largely due to the success of ABC’s mid-’00s ensemble dramas Lost and Grey’s Anatomy, but the majority of series still have mostly white casts, and the number of series on broadcast networks with minority leads can be counted on one hand.

    What happened is easy enough to understand, and it’s one of the same reasons for TV’s increasing lack of blue-collar sitcoms: The more networks could provide advertisers with demographic information, the more those advertisers chased the demographics with the most money. According to Stepakoff, in the ’90s, this meant chasing white parents and their teenagers, which ended up being The WB’s demographic. These viewers might have been reliable Cosby viewers 10 years earlier—after all, the Huxtables were affluent, just like the theoretical WB viewers—but increasingly, networks, driven by advertisers, believed that rich white people who would spend the most money on products wanted to see more white people, ideally affluent as well.

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site