Briefly Discussing SNL’s New Cast Member

And (UPDATE) newest staff members, two black female writers.

I didn’t want to have a lot of words on this, since everyone else will, but people have been asking my opinion on it, so here are my thoughts on Sasheer Zamata being cast as SNL’s newest token black cast member– black female comedian (neither is much better is it?). I had more thoughts than I thought I would.

via Sasheer Zamata’s Twitter

I know nothing about this girl, so this opinion has little to do with her or her comedy style. I sincerely hope she is great and has a great time and it leads her, whenever she is ready, to bigger and better things. But SNL hasn’t solved the problem. This hire really will only highlight more problems. What about comedians of other races? Will SNL only cave to include an Indian or an Asian after those communities raise an uproar? What about SNL’s non-acting writing staff (the cast and featured players aren’t the only writers, as far as I understand–perhaps I am wrong), how diverse is that group? Is the placement of this hire a ratings stunt for the traditionally slow month of January?

I worry also about featured player dynamics now that Sasheer has been chosen. The newbies on SNL are all currently fighting to get as much sketch/screen time as the main cast. Is Sasheer on featured player level, or main cast level? Either way, the show is gonna have to use her often, if only to prevent backlash of, “oh you hired her but don’t let her do anything.” Hopefully this opens up the writers’ sketch ideas in what they can include (non-drag Oprah and Michelle Obama will be a nice change of pace), but will those other writer’s write appropriate sketches for a black character?Some of Kerry Washington’s sketches were seen as problematic, if not on their own, but mostly because the issue was so hot then. If the show was known to have black writers/cast members as apart of the team, those sketches might not have had such unfortunate implications. To be specific, I’m thinking of the fact that Kerry played a lot of “ghetto” girls in her sketches, even the digital short. Kerry on SNL

Part of Jay Pharaoh’s failure as a successful main cast member is that he did great impressions, but once he did them, what was left? The ones we’ve seen become unfunny if done every time you’re in a sketch. His original work left much to be desired. Will Sasheer be relegated to those kinds of characters–ghetto girls and black female celebrities–without allowing her to broaden her range and play the straight man in a sketch or play a (quirky) character that has no ethnic implications?

Only time will tell. All I know is that Sasheer’s first (and probably second) episodes will be some of the highest of the season–the normal crowd will be watching, as well as critics (both positive and negative) of the choice, as well as “Black Twitter,” which has shown itself to be a force to reckon with. The black television audience is larger than networks give us credit for and the success of Scandal and even Sleepy Hollow have shown that black women will watch a television show with a black female character (even if just to hate on it) because we are so starved for representation. The rest is up to the writing, which SNL has been suffering with in the past, but hopefully some new blood will raise the quality of the writing as well.

UPDATE: http://splitsider.com/2014/01/snl-adds-two-black-female-writers/ SNL has also hired two black female writers LaKendra Tookes and Leslie Jones, to add to the staff. This certainly alleviates concerns about the treatment or Sasheer’s characters. As long as they can 1. fight to shut down sketches with unfortunate implications and 2. not be sidelined to only write sketches Sasheer is in… but right now, SNL is seeing our concerns and circumventing them, so here’s to hoping! Even more reason to watch SNL when it returns… They really will be some of the highest rated of the season I am sure.

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Why Are Black Sitcoms Less Available to Us?: Black Sitcom DVD/Streaming Distribution Disparity

Black Sitcoms Distribution Article Cover

In this digital age of streaming and DVD and Blu-ray, its seems we can watch anything we want, on any device we want, any time we want. Despite the number of networks and outlets available, there are what feels like the fewest black sitcoms on today. Compared to the heyday of the 80s and 90s, the lack of black sitcoms is especially obvious when you consider there is not one on network television. So you’d think we’d be able to go back to those great 80s and 90s TV shows to fill the void of black faces on our television screens. And yes, there are plenty of shows in syndication thanks to BET and TV One and other minority niche networks. But, as I said, in this digital age, you’d think we could watch whatever we want, whenever we want. This is not the case.

When I fell in love with A Different World this summer, I immediately went searching for it on the internet. I found it: terrible quality, 3-parts per episode YouTube videos. Ok. What about on DVD? Only season 1. Netflix? Nope. Hulu? Hasn’t even heard of the show. I currently have 30 episodes stored on my DVR thanks to TV One syndication. Then I thought of other popular black sitcoms and decided to do some research.

Shows like The Cosby Show, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and Family Matters had major audiences. Diverse audiences even; these shows aired during some of the most popular ratings time slots on TV: The NBC Thursday Must-See-TV block and the ABC TGIF block. The first two shows have full series on DVD, but Family Matters remains at only 3 seasons of its total 9 on DVD and none on any of the major streaming sites. Martin and Girlfriends also have all their episodes on DVD, but again, no streaming. Other shows from these eras and time slots, some with lesser ratings or critical acclaim are available but not black shows.

Check out this chart I made, featuring about 48 black sitcoms spanning from the ’60s to the ’00s (only 1 currently running sitcom is on the list)(It’s a bit ridiculous that it only took me a couple of hours to compile this list. It should be a longer list).

Black Sitcom DVD Release/Streaming Chart

Black Sitcom Streaming Availability Chart

Preview of the chart. Click through for the full and most updated version.

Only a quarter of the series on this list have full DVD releases. Only 3 are available on Netflix. Only 5 are available on Hulu. Some can be seen on the WB website or other network/studio pages (not listed on the chart), but I’ve watched shows on the WB website before, it’s not a pleasant experience (perhaps they’ve made some changes).

Why are our shows not available to us? Why must we hunt through DVD bins and “Save Until I Delete” on our DVRs or suffer through terrible quality YouTube versions (missing episodes or muted scenes because of song copyrights)? Why did so many Wikipedia pages say “Season 1 was released on DVD, but future seasons haven’t been made available due to poor season 1 sales”? Are people really not interested? Or were those cop-outs for those companies (more often than not, these shows were distributed by Warner Brothers)? I know that in the case of A Different World, season 1 differs greatly from the other 5 seasons, so of course DVD sales were low. The fans were waiting for season 2-6 to come out. What about The Jamie Foxx Show or Living Single or The Bernie Mac Show? Who is preventing these shows from being available to the (African-) American people?

I put African in parentheses above because here’s the thing: if shows featuring black people aren’t made available to everyone–not just black people–then how will a wider audience of people come into contact with black shows? If they were available as easily as [insert random show that people rarely watch or talk about but is streaming], we could get more than just black people watching these shows. We could expand the typical audience of these shows to include other races and the next generation. And in doing that, we could inspire writers and producers and networks to give more black written/black-led TV shows a shot (especially on network television). Then, more people would have exposure to great television programs and then realize, oh right, the cast was all black.

I don’t know what the solution is. Petition letters for shows like A Different World and Living Single have gone around, but they don’t seem to do much good. Hopefully, Netflix and Hulu will reach out to the black audience. For goodness sake, in their “Categories” section, Hulu has a Spanish Sitcom section while Netflix has a Korean TV Shows section. Why is there no “Black Sitcom” section, why are those shows not available? Maybe we need to create a streaming site that can get the rights to black TV shows; but there are already so many ways in which black television is being propelled backward (maybe you feel this way about Tyler Perry shows, maybe you don’t, but you definitely can’t ignore the complete lack of any black sitcoms on network television–and only three black led dramas, two which premiere this season)–we don’t need to add segregation to the list.

Let your favorite streaming service know that Black Sitcoms are worthy of being viewed. Make them talk to distributors to give them the rights. And support syndication reruns. Somewhere, I’m hoping something will change.

Are there any black sitcoms I left off the list? Any that have DVD/streaming availability that I neglected to mention? How do you think we can get better access to black television sitcoms?

*CORRECTION* I miscalculated on the chart: there are 12 shows with full DVD releases. Not much better. It has been corrected.

Related post: https://constarstudiestv.wordpress.com/2013/07/24/constar-studies-90s-black-sit-coms/

Link: Key & Peele explain how they created ‘Substitute Teacher’ – The Week

Interview: Key & Peele explain how they created ‘Substitute Teacher’ – The Week.

But when you bring someone back, you want to make sure it’s not just a cookie-cutter, by-the-numbers version of the original sketch, where you have the exact same gag with different names. It was very, very difficult for us to figure out how to do it. [The concept] really goes back to the difference between the cultures of an inner city school and a more privileged school in the suburbs.”

I really like reading people break down their craft, especially (tv) writers, and especially comedians because I always get so lost in the funny that I forget and then later remember that there is such an intricate science to comedy. Sometimes I’ll hear a joke and then think about how it was constructed (something is said, then the turn or element of surprise at the end) but I’ve never been good at setting up a joke or constructing one myself. I think that if I think about it enough, when the time comes to write one, I’ll have picked up the basics by osmosis and it will become innate.

So reading this is fun for me, to learn how this duo comes up with one of their more popular sketches. It also offers insight into how this particular group works and the way their writing dynamic seems to play out.