October 24, 2011

The Death of the Black Sitcom?

Today was a fantastic day in my book, mostly because I got the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly. I seriously love this magazine. In high school, my brother and I would regularly fight for it whenever it came in the mail. (I won a lot!)

This week's issue was particularly awesome because it featured a bunch of cast reunions. Princess Bride! Home Improvement! Growing Pains! 227!

OK, I actually didn't watch a whole lot of 227 when I was a kid (I think I was too young for it) but one of the interview questions really stuck out to me:
EW: Do you feel like the major networks have all but given up on shows centered on African-Americans? 
Jackee Harry: I think the title of your article should be "What Happened to the Black Sitcom?" We've disappeared. We have been banished. I'm not happy about it. I can tell you that. 
Huh. This made me think. Growing up, some of my favorite shows featured all Black casts. Family Matters? Loved. Fresh Prince of Bel Air? Adored. And The Cosby Show? Holy cow, one of my favorite shows ever. Do you guys remember the episode where the Huxtables teach Theo what it's like to live in the "real world"? So they make him rent his own room? Oh my, soooo funny.

So yeah. With the popularity of such shows in the 80s and 90s, I have to echo Jackee Harry's question: what happened to all of the Black sitcoms? I watch a fair amount of TV but I can't think of an all-Black comedy on one of the major networks today. Of course, a few shows exist on Cable (channels like BET and TBS come to mind) but these networks don't have the audience of NBC or CBS.

Which disappoints me. Majorly. In the YA blogging community, we often discuss the importance of publishing books that feature characters of color. We want children to be exposed to all sorts of peoples, to all sorts of cultures and voices. And you know what? This exact same argument applies to television.

I'll be honest. I didn't have a lot of African-American friends growing up. The schools I attended had a fair number of Asians and Indians but not many black students. And so, shows like Family Matters and Fresh Prince were formative for me. They showed me, Hey! These families aren't that different from mine! Even though these families were make-believe, they felt real to me. They were real to me.

It's my hope, then, that the major networks will breathe new life into the Black sitcom. And the Asian-American sitcom. The Latino sitcom. The Arab-American sitcom. We need this diversity.

We desperately need it.


  1. Caroline,

    I was lucky enough to grow up around a diverse lot. Plus, I, unlike a lot of people, wanted to learn about other cultures.

    The major networks apparently don't think there is an audience for shows about people of color, but that's a load of crap.

    Tyler Perry has proven them wrong by consistently killing the box office. When I go to the theaters to view his films, I see a vast array of people. :-)

    The major networks need to realize that America is comprised of people of color and lots of other communities as well.

  2. Oh, I loved the Cosby Show. And I grew up watching The Jeffersons, and Good Times. My kids were totally addicted to Sister, Sister and Smart Guy.

  3. I totally agree! My husband and I have already decided to buy all of the Cosby show DVDs and show them to our kids...when we have them someday. :) Such a great show! And I also loved Fresh Prince, Family Matters and Sister, Sister. One of the networks needs to create a Black Modern Family or Parenthood-type show.