I’ve almost completely given up on network television. I’ve gone from primarily consuming new and returning shows from the Big Four networks, to be surprised if I’m even interested in any of their shows at all. Not only has the TV landscape changed, for better and for worse, my viewing habits have changed as well.
My taste in TV shows have always centered around the philosophy of the following: Is it well written? Is the acting good?
I can immerse myself in almost any fictional universe as long as the writing is top notch and the actors can sell it, which means my viewing habits are eclectic. I don’t discriminate between watching comedies, Sci-Fi, dramas, etc. Recently, an additional criterion has been, is it creative? What separates this show from the rest? They say there’s nothing new under the sun and, true or not, I can appreciate a new spin on a premise.
But, when it comes to network TV, they just feel tired nowadays. You have your usual white male lead in a show about dating, policing, nerdiness, fish out water, and so forth. Almost any show you name, you can find a similar show that’s been done before or is currently being done at the same time. Sometimes, there isn’t even all that much difference between the show with actors who look very similar with similar personalities types, but people watch these shows over and over. Some get canceled, some stay, but the same shows with the same types of characters and the same situations exist. (Some of this falls in TV Trope territory, which is a familiar concept opposed to cliche which is a tired concept.)
I can’t speak for anyone else, but as a black woman, it’s tiresome. I grew up on white TV, which yes, there is technically such thing. TV isn’t TV when whites are overrepresented, which they are, and minorities and marginalized groups are stuck to being stereotypes, sidekicks, best friends, or all three. Some aren’t even represented at all. There are series that mostly go without featuring a person of color in a predominate role or storyline or, hell, even the background, such as the NBC show Friends until they were called out, then a black love interest came along. They’ll have shows where minorities heavily reside in real life, but you don’t see an ounce of color on the screen. When this is pointed out, monitories are “complaining.” However, in Netflix’s Luke Cage, many whites were outraged at the lack of white people or that they were one featured as villains, which is what is defined as the famous word: irony.
That’s why, despite however black people feel about the channel, BET exists. Finally, we get to see ourselves. Finally, we are featured in more than three seconds of screen time, if at all. Finally, some diversification in how we’re represented. FINALLY!
This slightly shows my age, but when I was younger, had to rely on channels such as UPN and the WB to see people who look like me and had various personalities. IT was hard to see representation on other channels besides BET, but I existed and it was important, even though I didn’t know it at the time, that I SAW myself. It was important that I saw various tones of black skins and various personalities and various types of family structures. White TV didn’t give me this. Even then, as my aunt pointed out, we only got comedies. Back then, a long-running drama that featured black people didn’t exist. At that time, only Showtime’s Soul Food existed, which ran for five seasons. Other than that, all long-running black shows were comedies. I mean, think about it: The Cosby Show, Good Times, A Different World, Girlfriends, and so forth. How many black dramas can you name off of the top of your head that existed before the 2010s?
Now, we have shows like Scandal, Empire, and How to Get Away With Murder. I’ve watched all of these shows and I knew of all of these actresses before they became the household names they are now. I’m not on some hipster tip, but being familiar with blacks shows and TV means you get familiar with actors who are black household names opposed to making it big when whites know your name. I go back with Taraji to Baby Boy and Kerry to Save the Last Dance. I don’t go as far back with Viola, but I kept up with her since Doubt. I’ve been known of these ladies talent and was proud when they made it big. They all star in dramas and, most famously, were all nominated against one another in the best actress category for drama at the Emmy’s, which Viola won.
Interestingly enough, despite these ladies all having long-running dramas and, at the same time too, I’ve noticed they fit a certain category, which is why they draw in big ratings: they’re high drama—basically a primetime soap. Although all of these shows touch on very important racial issues, especially being black and being black in America, you have these larger than life characters who aren’t humanized by the non-minority demographic more times than not. It’s thrilling drama that keeps you on the edge of your seat, BUT it’s hard to see them as people in everyday life (yes, I know Olivia Pope’s character, the job itself, is based on a real person) because, in a way, they aren’t treated as such. I can treat these characters with nuance, but I wonder how many of my white counterparts can. I wonder if they can truly understand the significance and be empathetic when Olivia talked about Sally Hemmings, Cookie went to jail for Lucious, or Annalise taking off her wig.
This is why having the dramas that feature minorities, the glaring lack of them, and the noticeable trend in those that exist IS important. Comedies are easier to digest because they aren’t serious all of the time. They have dramatic moments, BUT they’re overall funny. Dramas force you to take these characters serious for most of the time with comedic breaks depending on the show. That means you have to see these characters as real people and empathize with them—try to understand them and their backgrounds, their mindsets.
Which presents the huge issue with white TV; many viewers refuse to.
They don’t see us as people or groups they can relate to. I’ve spoken AND read many opinions about this and there are whites who admit to not consuming media with blacks in them because “I can’t relate.” Let me tell you: I watched and loved the hell out of a show for five seasons called The Good Wife about a middle age white woman who was cheated on by her politician husband. She left him and raised her kids as he served time in prison. I was in high school when I started watching this, okay? I didn’t relate a lick in the sense, but I appreciated a well written and well-acted show and, hell, I sympathized with her that she was hurt in such a way. There as the show Chuck about a nerd with a computer installed in his head, Friends, Burn Notice, Veronica Mars, X-Files—I could literally go on. Also, I should mention that I also own seasons for ALL of these shows.
But, I don't know anything about their lives and I cannot relate, but I LOVE TV and I found ways to relate universally and, basically, being a minority viewer in the US means being forced to relate to programs you don’t share a background with if you want to watch TV.
Despite the success of those three dramas, it’s actually hard leading a show that isn’t a comedy OR a primetime soap. Truly.
Think about this: black people constantly call whites out on cultural appropriation, right? Then, we’re met with hurt feelings and how culture should be shared, right? White people are some of the highest consumers of rap when a said rapper is incredibly popular, as a matter of fact, that goes for ALL black artists. Black artists cannot succeed in the pop world without a significant white demographic. White people were listening to gangster rap and saying how they related. Watching The Wire and saying they understood black struggles now. Yet, when suggested they watch a show where blacks aren’t behaving/suffering stereotypically, and then it’s “I can’t relate.” We’re only relatable and worth watching if they can’t humanize us; we’re only here for entertainment and not to be portrayed as diverse people with diverse struggles.
FOX aired a show for one season called Pitch, which was canceled due to “low” viewership when in reality, FOX didn’t want the show to succeed, but I digress. Anyways, Pitch featured the character Ginny Baker who was the first, fictional, female baseball player. The show was well written, well acted and had a healthy mix of sports drama and personal life drama. We saw Ginny navigate through being the first female baseball player, the sacrifices she made and the toll it took on her. Ginny was a normal person who was flawed but preserved and fought for everything she had. She wasn’t high drama or a schemer, she just wanted to play the game. She was funny, charming, caring, had selfish moments, lonely, vulnerable, strong, and so much more. She was #BlackGirlMagic.
Ginny’s existence and her portrayal were powerful. She endured living under a microscope all while trying to do everything right and then falling apart when it all became too much. And you know what happened? People took her mental health seriously. They supported her. They told her that she wasn’t alone. They gave her permission to not be okay and sought help for her. And she was told it was okay to not have it all figured out. She dealt with the imposter syndrome, people shoving cameras in her face every time an issue arose, nude pic scandal, and the pressures of trade and its impact on her isolation.
Ginny flat out said, “I don’t need a man to rescue me.” She told her catcher, that a guy interested in her could watch her during spring training if he wanted to be with her so bad. Like…this show was canceled??? Pitch was written in a way that everything I mentioned came off as realistic and authentic. Every emotion was earned. Every. Last. One. And this was canceled? You’re telling me that female athletes, regardless of race and age, couldn’t relate to this? Hell, even men related to this? You’re telling me that people who are minorities, racially and otherwise, in their fields can't-do this? Even people who don’t like sports watched this show and related to this. I guarantee you if this was a white woman, it’d still be on the air, but since a black woman, Kylie Bunbury played Ginny Baker, “can’t relate.” It’s unrealistic, but we have girls like Mo’ne Davis. There is even a young girl with a robotic arm who plays baseball. There is a demand for young girls in baseball and people don’t think this representation for them isn’t important???
But, this is the other reason why Pitch failed: it was a black woman in a traditionally white male space. That goes for Michael Burnham in Star Trek: Discovery and the complaints about the show that hadn’t even aired. And, ironically, these two things are supposed to be so inclusive, right? But, they aren’t. And, I’m not sorry, but I’ve stopped giving my viewerships to TV shows and networks who can’t respect me as a viewer and as a person because this issue isn’t just on the viewers, it’s also on the networks who refuse to appropriately support shows that feature non-white people.
There was a commentator who said blacks (mainly women) were overrepresented on TV. To this, I say: because we are bringing the creativity. If networks and creators want to feature the same 5 shows, go ahead, but not Networks see the potential in minorities and are giving them platforms to tell their stories. I mean, think about who the notable Emmy’s winners were this year: Aziz Ansari, Lena Waithe, Riz Ahmed, and Donald Glover. You have Sterling K. Brown from NBC, but most of those are from non-network channels. We minorities are given control over their narratives or are given diverse and complex material to work with, we shine and we stand out because we are offering something new and unique to television. Our representation is important too.
And if any of my Pitch fans are reading this, hit up Netflix and write NBC to pick up Pitch. 🙂
Add: P.S if the white readers feel inclined to center themselves, please don't. I don't care if you. watched any of these shows, I'm addressing a larger audience that does not and you're attention-grabbing behavior doesn't help the problem.
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