ConStar Clicks

Happy new year! Start off the year with some cool articles I found last year (ok, like three days ago):

Abuela speaks Spanish to Jane, who speaks English back. The show makes no apologies for it’s subtitles.

In typical #Clicks fashion, I start off with a Jane the Virgin article. This one, by author Daniel Jose Older, praises Jane for being “unapologetically Latin” through it’s use of Spanish “without without issue or apology.” Older ends with this: “Art is at its best when it refuses to translate itself or cater to the lowest common denominator,” which, if you follow me on Twitter, you’ll see is similar to my favorite quote from The West Wing, “It’s not our job to cater to the lowest common denominator, it’s our job to raise it.” And of course he’s right. There’s a lot of talk about the global success of different genres of movie and TV shows. It’s something to think about when talking about how black films or POC centered TV shows do overseas, because a lot of times, those shows are given so many US-centered guidelines that of course they don’t do well overseas. They’re not authentic in their presentation. If black media, or Latino media were more like Jane the Virgin, “unapologetic” in the way they talk about and express their culture, they might do better overseas. People respond to truth and authenticity and can see through a false construct built by meddling executives who think they know how to sell any story, as long as it’s done their way.

This article at Refinery 29 is about the head of original content at Hulu, Beatrice Springborn. She actually started in TV pretty late, having started her career in Journalism out of school. Places like Hulu and Pixar (which she also worked for) are sort of like what it sounds like to work at a place like Google or Apple. Aka, sounds like a dream!

BGN blackish podcast

I’m co-hosting this podcast with Black Girl Nerds!

Fun fact: On Sunday at 7pm I will be co-hosting a podcast with the kids from the show blackish. I’m super excited, they’re such cute and talented kids! In this article, the author writes about how the blackish family resembles her own.

[M]e being wrapped up in kente cloth is a thing that happened.

It’s so important to have a black family back on television. I could be wrong, but wasn’t Everybody Hates Chris the last network TV show with a family? If not, it’s still been few and far between. ABC’s last black family was My Wife and Kids (right?) which ended in 2005. As the author mentions, she and many viewers see themselves in various parts of the Johnson family. Shared experiences from childhood or finally understanding where her parents’ mindset was coming from when they made the choices they did. But it’s not just important for adults to see themselves on TV (which is certainly is). It’s a show you can watch as a family and it represents differences in generation when it comes to all kinds of things, like technology and social media but also the obvious differences in dealing with race. The blackish kids give their kid viewers people to relate to (barring any future child star problems of course). Just as I looked up to Olivia from The Cosby Show as looking similar to me while also hanging out with her funny, jazz loving grandfather, kids today finally have some peers to look up to. I hope blackish inspires more black families on network television (remember that not every family has access to cable, even today), so that more kids (and adults like us of course) have more families like their own representing them on television.

It’s stated all the time that we’re in a “golden age” of television, where there is a lot of high quality content and things are changing and evolving dramatically. Ad Week went over 5 ways in which the TV landscape has changed in 2014, including the expansion of the Neilsen ratings system to finally include new media, really good new media content (“We saw the first crop of streaming shows as good as premium cable.”), and a decline in reality TV ratings (praise emoji!).

Basically my notebooks are filled with charts and images like this. I need formula. You may not, but I do.

TV is formula. I know this and Noah Charney over on The Atlantic is learning this. People always say to just sit down and write, but I need formula. Formula isn’t bad. One you learn a formula, if you’re the rebellious type, then you do what you want and break the formula. But I need structure when I write. I’ve been learning that my problem with actually sitting down to write is that there are too many possibilities. I am overwhelmed. So I come up with one way to tell the story, but then am paralyzed because what if another way is better? What if I get seven pages in a things aren’t working, do I start over with another direction? Or just go back a page and change things there? There are too many possibilities. Charney’s article breaks down the sitcom into bits and pieces and uses my current favorite sitcom as an example. (I need to compare this article to my 2/3rds written Parks and Recreation spec script and see if I can finally figure out Act 3, even if the show isn’t usable as a spec anymore.)

Finally, here’s some much needed inspiration on actually calling myself a writer:

When can you call yourself a writer in private?

Now. Absolutely right now.

Tell yourself in the mirror before you brush your teeth, then again when you’re driving home from work.

Say it so many times that you get exasperated looks from your spouse. Heck, get business cards printed, too. [<– totally did that!]

When can you call yourself a writer in public?

The answer to this question is also now — but this is a different matter altogether. The reason you want to take this step immediately in public is to apply pressure to yourself. [<– Mhm! The pressure is real! And works!]

The author goes on to say, “So don’t refer to yourself as a writer in public until you have a plan to deal with follow-up questions.” Those questions include: “What are you working on?” “Where can I read it?” He says to be confident, if you’re not confident in your answer to these questions, then you’re not ready to call yourself a writer in public.

[T]he sooner you start calling yourself a writer in private and in public, and the sooner you create a website and business cards, the sooner you will realize your career choice is a serious endeavor and demands your time and attention.

And that is what will drive you to sit down, put in the hard work and create.

That’s why I changed the name of my blog and made the business cards (I need new ones with my updated URL, but I still have so many of the old ones!), I am trying to treat writing as a serious venture, worthy of my time and attention, which will (and has) inspire me to write more and more and more.

Hmm, this week’s clicks gave me a lot to talk about. These weekly articles are a great way to get me writing and discussing things that I might not have otherwise.

Happy 2015!

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Link: How To Make It As A Black Sitcom: Be Careful How You Talk About Race

Link: How To Make It As A Black Sitcom: Be Careful How You Talk About Race on Huff Post Black Voices

Several people have sent this to me and I want to share it here. I haven’t been able to dissect it just yet, as it’s a long read, but it looks to be a really, really in depth piece discussing several decades of black sitcoms and comparing their successes and the ways in which they handle race. All of this as black-ish finds its legs and receives a full season pick-up.  There are some great graphs and discussion of a proposed “era” system of black sitcoms from the 50s until now.

 

Check it out.

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/