TV cast of The Amos 'n' Andy Show (1951-53). Spencer Williams (Andy), Tim Moore (Kingfish), and Alvin Childress (Amos)
TV cast of The Amos 'n' Andy Show (1951-53). Spencer Williams (Andy), Tim Moore (Kingfish), and Alvin Childress (Amos)

A black sitcom is a sitcom that principally features black people in its cast. Prominent black sitcoms to date typically come from the United States with African American casts. Although sitcoms with primarily black characters have been present since the earliest days of network television, this genre rose to prominence in the 1990s.[1][2][3]

History

Early twentieth century

See also: Dialect comedy

In the early days of television, black actors were often cast in stereotypical roles, often as comic clowns in a tradition tracing back to the genre of black minstrelsy popular in the early 20th century. The first television sitcom to portray black people, Amos 'n Andy, was widely popular among diverse audiences. The actors on the original radio show were both white, but the 1951-53 television show portrayed them with black actors, and represented black individuals as businesspeople, judges, lawyers and policemen. After over 70-odd episodes had been broadcast, it was taken off the air after protests from specific groups including the NAACP, who alleged that the show engaged in stereotyping.[4] Afterwards, there were no all-Black sitcoms shown in the U.S. until the 1970s.

1970s–1980s

A series of popular black sitcoms appeared in the 1970s, including That's My Mama, Good Times, Sanford and Son, What's Happening!!, and The Jeffersons. These sitcoms were widely popular amongst diverse audiences. These sitcoms celebrated black culture. [4] In the 1980s sitcoms such as The Cosby Show, A Different World, and Frank's Place, challenged stereotypical portrayals of Black people these sitcoms were well received . [4]

1990s

After the 1980s, the major U.S. television networks appeared to lose interest in black sitcoms. In the 1990s, newer networks such as Fox, The WB and UPN, anxious to establish themselves with a black audience, featured black sitcoms such as Martin and Living Single, which drew high ratings among black households and were profitable even with a limited white viewership.[4][5][6][7]

Though there were some black sitcoms successful with white audiences in the 1990s such as Family Matters, Moesha, Sister, Sister and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, the number of new programs continued to decline. From 1997 to 2001, the number of black sitcoms on U.S. television declined from 15 to 6 as white viewership declined,[8] and that decline has generally continued.[9] Civil rights organizations have accused networks of denying minorities equal opportunity as well as a broader participation in general television programming.[4]

2010s

By the early 2010s, black sitcoms had faded away on broadcast/network television (ABC, The CW, NBC, CBS, and FOX) but there are signs of a comeback on cable such as The Game, canceled in 2009 and then renewed on BET, A.N.T. Farm on Disney Channel, Are We There Yet?, Tyler Perry's For Better Or Worse on TBS, Love That Girl! on TV One, Let's Stay Together and Reed Between the Lines, on BET. Also, there have been a return of reruns of popular 1990s black sitcoms on BET, BET Her, Bounce TV, TV Land, TV One, MTV2, and TBS.[10]

On August 10, 2012, Tyler Perry's House of Payne surpassed The Jeffersons and became the longest-running sitcom with a predominantly African-American cast in the history of American television in terms of number of episodes.[10]

On August 23 and 24, 2012, Debbie Allen, the former chief creative force of A Different World from 1988 to 1993, wrote on Twitter that she wants to reboot A Different World. Over a million people on Facebook, Twitter, and blogs reacted to the tweet and approved the potential reboot.[10] On September 24, 2014, the ABC sitcom Black-ish premiered with over 11 million people watching the premiere episode. It was met with mostly positive reviews, garnering an 86% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.[11] The show includes many references to current racial issues in America.[12][13] Black-ish has two spin-off series, Mixed-ish and Grown-ish, which also have African-American leads and deal with racial issues.

Analysis

The favorite programs of television audiences tend to reflect their different ethnic origins and affinities. The exposure of the black community on U.S. TV has been greater than that of other minorities but continues to reflect racial divisions within American society.

After U.S. networks were criticized by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) for allegedly failing to portray the racial diversity of real-world settings, drama shows, such as The West Wing, began casting more black characters.[14] As a medium, black sitcoms and their historical blackface and minstrelsy antecedents "have provided a comedic outlet that have both affirmed the normalcy of white privilege and helped to alleviate fears of Black achievement" (Scott 747).[who?][citation needed] Earlier black sitcoms such as The Cosby Show, Family Matters, Living Single, and more, propelled new identities and offered new formats in representing African Americans.[citation needed]

Black sitcoms feature highly in the black audience's top 10 programs but have limited success with white audiences, attributed by Doug Alligood, senior vice-president at the advertising agency BBDO which has analyzed ratings figures, to the failure of humor to translate. The high ratings achieved by Bill Cosby have been ascribed to humor that has appealed to both whites and blacks.[14] Black households make up over 20 percent of regular TV viewers.[4]

References

  1. ^ Dalton, Mary M.; Laura R. Linder (2005). The sitcom reader: America viewed and skewed. Suny Press. p. 142. ISBN 0-7914-6569-1.
  2. ^ Moss, Robert F. (February 25, 2001). "TELEVISION/RADIO; The Shrinking Life Span of the Black Sitcom". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-11-09.
  3. ^ Bogle, Donald (2001). Primetime Blues: African Americans on Network Television. Farrar Straus Giroux. ISBN 0-374-12720-4.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Why Is TV So Segregated?, Alvin Poussaint, M.D., FamilyEducation.com, Retrieved February 18, 2010
  5. ^ Joyce Millman (January 25, 1999). "Movin' on down". Salon.com. Archived from the original on October 23, 2010. Retrieved February 18, 2010.
  6. ^ Suzanne C. Ryan (May 10, 2006). "Black sitcoms may lose home". The Boston Globe. Retrieved February 18, 2010.
  7. ^ Nancy Hass (February 22, 1998). "A TV Generation Is Seeing Color". The New York Times. Retrieved February 18, 2010.("In fact, over all, there is astonishingly little overlap between the most-watched shows among blacks and those among whites.")
  8. ^ Robert F. Moss (February 25, 2001). "The Shrinking Life Span of the Black Sitcom". The New York Times. Retrieved February 18, 2010.
  9. ^ Aaron Barnhart (September 29, 2009). ""Brothers": Last of the black network sitcoms". The Kansas City Star. Retrieved February 18, 2010.[dead link]
  10. ^ a b c "Where Are All the Black TV Shows?".
  11. ^ "black-ish: Season 1 (2014)". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved November 25, 2014.
  12. ^ Robinson, Joanna. "How Black-ish's Searing Political Commentary Transcended "Very Special Episode" Territory". HWD. Retrieved 2017-03-27.
  13. ^ Kang, Inkoo (January 12, 2017). "You Should Watch Black-ish's Essential 'Lemons' Episode Before The Inauguration". MTV News. Retrieved 2017-03-27.
  14. ^ a b Duncan Campbell (February 6, 2003). "US watches TV in black and white". The Guardian. London. Retrieved February 18, 2010.