The Revolution and Evolution of Black Television

ATLANTA -- Pictured: (l-r) Brian Tyree Henry as Alfred Miles, Keith Standfield as Darius, Donald Glover as Earnest Marks. CR: Matthias Clamer/FX

This is the part where I open the article with a clever yet thought provoking statement. Yeah, that’s not happening this time; this article is literally inspired by the series’ Atlanta and Insecure. I will get back to them a bit later. Black television has always been something that I found to be an interesting dynamic. As a black man in the current society, in its turmoil, I am reminiscent of what black entertainment and black television as whole was initially intended to do for the culture. The shows of the 70’s where intended to speak to some of the struggles that we went through at the times. That pretty much continued into the early 80’s. 

 I have spoken to many relatives that recant the feel and impact of the shows of the 70’s and 80’s. My view on them in retrospect is a little different. Not to generalize on that era as a whole because it did speak to a lot of what black culture struggled with at the time; but in between the greatness, frankly there was a lot of shucking and jiving. There was a decent amount of stereotypical satire, and while some of the jokes that were stereotypes were funny at the moment, they failed to have  comedic longevity. I will not and am not looking to make this sound and seem all bad. The shows of that era were pioneers. That in it’s dose broke down some of the color barrier and general walls that created the opportunity for the future generations. The pinnacle of that in my eyes was The Jeffersons. To keep it as brief as possible the premise alone naturally flipped what was the general norm amongst shows at the time. I also strongly believe it’s humor, social undertone, and the star power of the shows leading man transcended race at its time.  

On to the golden era of black television, the late 80’s to the early 2000’s. Normally I would not do the laundry list of contributing parts but to glaze over this is a discredit to its greatness. The Cosby Show, A Different World, Hanging with Mr. Cooper, In Living Color, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Family Matters, Martin, The Wayans Brothers, Sister Sister, The Jamie Foxx Show, Living Single, Moesha, The Parkers, All That, The Hughleys, The Steve Harvey Show, Keenan and Kel, Smart Guy, Girlfriends, The Bernie Mac Show, The PJs, Eve, Half and Half, My Wife and Kids, Everybody Hates Chris, Malcom and Eddy, One on One, The Parent ‘Hood, In the House, Thea, Cousin Skeeter, Roc, My Brother and Me, All of Us, That’s So Raven,  The Proud Family, The Chappelle Show, and Baltimore drama The Wire. They are the staple shows of the black television golden era. Geared towards family entertainment. They were truly a direct influence of a show like The Jeffersons, because many of them were centered around what would be considered “Financial and Career successful” black families. Ranging from blue collar working Middle America households, to well off richer families, to the high end career driven center points. Some even where the stars where budding entrepreneurs with their own successful business. The era was unparalleled in my eyes and will be missed as the current void that has been left since its absence is yet to be filled. These shows connected with a wide range of audiences, races and ages. They addressed many social issues, as well as in the black household and everyday things. Even beyond that the reason why they are so highly regarded is they addressed general issues and things we all dealt with or relate to as a society.

So where are we now? I did mention that we have lost a dynamic that we may never see again, but that’s not say we didn’t gain anything. Sitcoms are down as a whole to be honest, reality tv has pretty much destroyed that. Everybody Hates Chris was probably the last show of that family of thought we had loved. Black-ish falls in to that family but there was a large gap in between those show and its honestly now the rarity. In comparison to the past generations of black television, there seems to be more creative control. In the past you can see where “The Networks” played such a big part in the direction of the series. Of course this is in part due to the fact that more minorities have moved into positions of power creating a simpler green light for the control going to the actors who take part in writing these series. But, another part of this change is due to how we intake our media; it’s become a more individual consumption than anything else. This has allowed us to transition from situational comedies to dramas and more general comedies. The current lineup Power, Empire, Survivor’s Remorse, Black-ish, Being Mary Jane, The Carmichael Show, The Haves and the Have Not, Queen Sugar, The Get Down, Luke Cage, Ballers, Atlanta and Insecure are proving themselves to be more than just substantial. Maybe it’s because I am a Childish fan, but I find Atlanta brilliant and refreshing from what you would expect from him. This is not Childish Gambino and this is not Donald Glover of Community, but this is everything we love and need from him at the same time. Atlanta and Insecure share one big thing for me and that is how flawless the scoring of both shows are. They seamlessly and impeccably set the tone for each and every scene in the show and truly accent every thought being portrayed. Insecure is set to be another staple of the HBO roster. Issa Rae is perfect in the role, its well written and definitely a television experience that will instantly connect with it’s viewers.

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