ConStar Clicks

Welcome to this week’s (slightly delayed) clicks! Let me know which articles you’ve been reading. And if you have any suggestions for links to share, leave a comment or shoot me a tweet! Let’s jump right in!

Belafonte and Clarke Interracial Touching TV

This was a controversy in 1968. For context, it happens a month before MLK is assassinated.

This Huffington Post article goes through a few major landmarks in black television. From Amos and Andy‘s outrageous stereotypes to the present day where a black woman is a president on TV (for however long State of Affairs manages to sustain itself). That in and of itself is cool for those who didn’t know about these shows and their legacies, but this quote really stood out to me:

Such a torrid romance [re: Scandal’s Fitz/Olivia] marks a head-spinning change from 1968, when, during the taping of a duet for her NBC special, British pop singer Petula Clark clasped the arm of Harry Belafonte, the beloved calypso star and social activist. It was a gesture that spurred the sponsor, Chrysler, to demand this instance of “interracial touching” be edited out.

The emphasis is mine, because wow! I know that there were such strict rules on television back then (I mean, Lucy couldn’t even say she was pregnant with a baby she got by sleeping in the bed next to her husbands!), but for the sponsor to want an arm touch edited out…! Seems so silly. “Interracial touching.” Tch!

Also:

In a few cases, in the weeks following the incident, as at CBS, there were directives from on high to writers, producers, directors, and studio programing heads instructing them “to intensify immediately the portrayal and use and actual number of Negroes in entertainment programs.” [x]

Uhm, can we get CBS to have a similar “intensification?”

♥ I shared a piece by this author, Eric Haywood, last week about banning the word “aspiring” from your vocabulary as a writer. This time, I’ve found another bit of searing Haywood advice: “If you stay ready, you don’t have to get ready.” The article is about having work ready to show someone always, at a moment’s notice. I am still working on having one thing finished, much less a constant flow of work-in-progresses, but it’s still important advice that I need to let marinate. Because as a writer, I should never be done writing. There are times when I am “finished” and something is ready to go off into the world (again, still working on that part), but then I should already be on the next thing. As it is, I do have a backlog of ideas for certain things, they’re just, unfortunately, not all TV shows, aka the medium I want to work in. “But that means you should already have a current piece of submission-ready material available at a moment’s notice.” As a chronic procrastinator who often needs deadlines to work, I need to work on “staying ready” more than “I can do it later if you tell me when it’s due.” Writer!Connie still has a lot of work to do.

Also this was great advice for all of us writers, no matter the field:

“In the age of smartphones and cloud computing, there is absolutely no reason for you to ever leave home without a PDF of your latest writing sample just a few thumb-clicks away. Not ever. Period. Let me repeat that being prepared is no automatic guarantee of success.”

♥ I was going to share this article on the end of TV shows we love, and I technically still am, but once I read this line, I immediately disliked it: “It can be argued that a show like Friends never jumped the shark, but I would argue that happened some time between when Ross and Rachel first broke up to when Monica and Chandler got together.” NOPE. The Monica/Chandler arc was the best thing to happen to Friends. You can’t jump the shark then UN-jump it, unless this author just thinks that everything that happened after season 2 was awful? Which is utterly ridiculous. Aside from overuse of the phrase “jumping the shark,” I do agree that shows end for a reason and sometimes it is before we want them to, but that’s just so they don’t end after we hate them. Ugh, that Friends blasphemy just riled me up! (Blasphemy, another word I think I should probably stop overusing…)

♥ This article, “What is a Universal Story Anyway,” is fantastic with regard to discussing what “universal” means and how it silences so many stories. I’ve plucked out some great quotes. Please check out the entire piece because I never thought about the term “universal” in such a way.  My favorite quote, “It’s not our job to cater to the lowest common denominator. It’s our job to raise,” (from The West Wing) definitely fits in with the jist of this piece.

“It’s hard to tell your own story to a broad audience, when you have been deemed “other” from birth.”

“[T]his new shift offers a glimpse into what media might look like if it had always been this way, if “universal” were defined in someone else’s favor.”

“The definition of “universal” is owned by those whose stories have already been told—and told with complexity. Writers who lie outside of this boundary are pressured to adopt the same stories, the same language, used and approved by others. Readers who have never seen themselves reflected back are expected to continue not existing. Using “universal” to enforce only makes our stories narrower, but using it as an opportunity to explore the lives of others, so unlike our own, takes back the term and gives it the meaning it’s meant to have.”

♥ As January passes us by, February into spring means the peak of pilot season! Shows are being picked up for pilots, names are being attached to projects, and soon enough, production will begin on the slate of offerings for the 2015-2016 season (already!?!). Between the midseason premieres, summer limited series, and the onslaught of Netflix/Hulu/Amazon shows we’re expecting, this is a list of a few nerd-friendly TV shows that are coming this year so far.

What are you looking forward to watching?

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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.

ConStar’s Pilot Watch: Black-ish

I’m not sure how I feel about Black-ish. There are parts I really enjoyed and I think it had the humor it needed. I think Tracee Ellis Ross was fantastic and funny, and the kids on the show are super adorable. Plus, it’s a pilot, so there’s always room to grow and get stronger, but I’m not sure what I am supposed to take away from it. I think, and hope, that they’re building a show where the dad tries to make his family act stereotypically “black” but then realizes his family is black no matter how they act. They don’t have to conform to some stereotypical ideal of what black means. Because some of the “black” things he tried to make his son do were ridiculous and weren’t things that were even apart of his own culture, something I suppose they will touch on as well (the differences between being black and being African).

I do enjoy that there is a struggle and an uncomfortableness, because I struggle with the idea of being called “white” by my black family/friends or being called an “oreo.” I think it’s about people either adapting or sticking out and trying to find that balance and I think the show will explore that. I like the idea of the main character being in the wrong: every episode will deal with him trying to impose some sort of ideal on his family, then being forced to realize that they can balance the new aspects of themselves they like (field hockey for instance) with the things of “classic” black culture (there are Adidas track suits at the end of the episode that are literally in my cousin’s closet).

There were really funny moments, though I’m not sure how I feel about the voice over done by Anthony Anderson’s character. I suppose it flowed once the story picked up steam, but I wasn’t expecting it. Again, Tracee Ellis Ross was really great; I haven’t watched Girlfriends yet, so I’ve never seen her act in anything. I enjoyed her and the kids are cute and precocious, though only the oldest gets real character development.

There’s a lot of pressure on this show. It’s the only network black sitcom and if it fails, there might not be a call for more. And of course it has to follow in the footsteps of black family comedies like The Cosby Show, The Fresh Prince, and Family Matters. There’s totally room to grow; but let’s not get over-ambitious and call it the Cosby Show of this millennium. I’m not ready to give it that high honor yet. Just in terms of character and writing, what I remember of the Cosby Show defined all the kids’ characterization and their relationships in a stronger way than this did; and no one will ever forget the “I brought you in this world, and I will take you out” line that, while stemming from Cosby’s stand-up, really made an impression on the series’ tone and potential.

Verdict:  I will watch it regularly unless it disappoints. ::please don’t disappoint::

Emmys: ‘Orange Is the New Black’s’ Uzo Aduba Makes a Plea to Voters Guest Column – The Hollywood Reporter

Emmys: ‘Orange Is the New Black’s’ Uzo Aduba Makes a Plea to Voters Guest Column – The Hollywood Reporter.

I’ve been neglecting this blog (and other writing) recently (life is getting super busy and I haven’t quite adjusted yet), but Emmy season is fast approaching and I hope to have more time to discuss shows as nominations approach in July.

So I may not be back, but I’ll hopefully post links to articles like this one. This one is especially important because it’s by a black actress making the case for diverse shows to get more Emmy recognition. Her show, Orange is the New Black, is of course an interesting contender: breaking out of the network and even premium cable mold, but it’s also female driven and has a lot of strong characters of color with increasingly important roles.

Check out the article and I’ll hopefully have more to share soon!

Highlights:

  • “The last series with a non-white cast to win the comedy Emmy was The Cosby Show in 1985.”
  • “The last woman of color to take the comedy actress prize was Isabel Sanford (The Jeffersons) in 1981.”
  • “Today, with the groundbreaking impact of Orange Is the New Black, it’s time for Emmy to not only redefine what a winning comedy is but also what “Emmy worthy” looks like.”
  • I love that she mentions Khadijah James (Queen Latifah) from Living Single.

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/

ConStar Studies 90s Black Sit-Coms

I just finished watching A Different World. Despite being such a huge fan of The Cosby Show, I’d never watched the spin-off. I finally have made my way through most of the episodes (thanks to YouTube, since only season 1 is on DVD right now). And I loved it. It was well-written, fun, funny, had great character development, and tackled the issues of the day without losing the above. All in all, it was just very real

It wasn’t perfect; the season 1 to 2 cast/production staff shake-ups in cast were definitely a game changer, some other characters went in and out, Jaleesa married Col Taylor (which I was not a fan of), and then completely disappeared, and there are a few really weird/corny dream sequence, cast-talent show episodes that I kind of skipped through. Granted, I spent most of my marathon pining for Whitley/Dwayne scenes anyway, but even that was handled pretty well for a will-they/won’t-they arc. The lead up to their involvement wasn’t rushed or forced (unlike most of Ron’s cast love interests)–it helps that even when Dwayne was supposed to be hung up over Denise in season 1 and they were on a date, he still had globs of chemistry with date-crasher Whitley–and when they got to together, they actually stayed together for several episodes, across a season finale, before the inevitable split up. And when they got back together, they were together for good (one break up is fantastic numbers for a WT/WntT. A good amount of tugging at our hearts (though I’m sure over 6 real-time years it may not have felt good) without overdoing it like some shows (the Ross/Rachel effect I guess).

A Different World had a diverse African-American cast (meaning diverse amongst the black community; there isn’t just the token, cool, black best friend), good writing, and actors with great chemistry with one another. And it raised issues of black history, racism (on both sides of the divide as well as within the black community), classism, war, politics, date rape, AIDS, and other issues that were (and unfortunately still are) plaguing the black community. There’s nothing else like it. Which leads me to wonder, where are the shows like this today?

We had a really good run of quality, family friendly, uplifting black television in the early 90s. The Cosby Show, A Different World, Family Matters, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. I could be missing some, but these 4 are the pinnacle. Of course there was also Living Single, Martin, The Wayans Brothers, The Jamie Foxx Show, and a few other shows towards the late 90s, but these shows were more silly, general sit-coms. They were escapist and pure fun. That’s not bad, it’s just not my point. [I’ll add ABC’s My Wife and Kids to this list, though it started in 2001, as somewhere between the classic sitcom nature of a show like Martin and the life-lessons of The Cosby Show. It did try to have life lessons but really did err on the side of silly a lot.] They also aired on UPN and The WB, which is again, not bad, but the other 4 aired on 2 of the 3 major networks of the time, in a day when FOX/UPN/WB were just starting out and there weren’t cable networks dedicated to black television

And this is part my problem, my concern, really. Those shows (which were a part of NBC’s juggernaut Must-See-TV line up and ABC’s super-popular TGIF block) were hits of their day and were reached by millions of audience of all colors. Now, we have several channels dedicated to black television (both old and new, reality and scripted) and I can’t say that any one has created a show like the 4 I’ve been mentioning. And there aren’t any black sitcoms on network (the big four) television at all right now (if I am missing one, please inform me)(and someone tell me what’s on my9 and CW, they’ve been focusing on white teenage supernatural shows, no?). We have all this television space (and, increasingly, YouTube and Netflix and Hulu space) and still no one has created shows like these. Well-written, focusing on educated black people who want to know their history and raise the lowest common denominator of entertainment? That’s seems absurd. I had a Facebook status with the question of why shows like ADW don’t exist today, and someone said because I hadn’t written it yet, and while I appreciate the challenge and hope to someday do so, where are all the other people like me who miss these shows and want people to watch more than Love and Hip Hop (which I am disappointed to see is not at all like the movie Brown Sugar)?

Elizabeth Meriwether’s (New Girl) tweeted this the other day and I think the answer is related to my question.

Image

Some of the responses were that we started being honest with ourselves and that 9/11 happened. These things could be true. I also read somewhere (I can’t cite the source right now, sorry) that especially in this post-9/11 world, we went from utopian fiction and ideas of the future to dystopias and world collapse. Probably why zombies are at an all-time high of popularity right now. These things are probably related to why we don’t have uplifting black sitcoms on right now.

Maybe I’m just a family friendly (but not corny) kind of girl. But shows like Cosby, ADW, Fresh Prince, and Family Matters showed the world and young kids (both of other races and blacks ourselves) that we are more than just the stereotype. And while a lot of people say that the things those shows presented aren’t reality, if we don’t see them exist anywhere, how can we make them a reality? ADW made kids not only want to go to college, but Historically Black Colleges. Cosby showed kids that we could be families of doctors and lawyers or even get our PhD in Education while being an actor/comedian. We can grow up in Philadelphia and become the fresh prince and then the number one movie star in the world (as a black lead in several sci-fi films at that, something no other black actor or actress has pulled off (well, Sam Jackson and Zoe Saldana too. My interest in black sci-fi is another blog post). Black kids are nerds too (though Urkel style has been adapted by hipsters now) and we can accept that and be happy with it. Despite them not being reality, they can lead us to a new reality. This is why we need shows like these on today. The other stuff isn’t bad (a lot of the reality is bad, #scriptedtelevisionforlife) but it doesn’t challenge us or teach us anything. These shows did. And I want more like it.

But I suppose, as they say (paraphrasing): The [television show] you want to [watch] doesn’t exist? Create it.

Related post: Why Are Black Sitcoms Less Available to Us?

Making Diversity the Norm, a Quote

Aisha Muharrar, a writer for NBC-TV’s Parks and Recreation, understands our nostalgic longing for programs that reflected us in authentic characters and situations that brought laughs without compromising our dignity. “I loved watching The Cosby Show, Living Single, Fresh Prince and Family Matters when I was a kid. But so did all my white friends. They were just good shows we all enjoyed. The answer is to make it the norm again so two shows don’t have to be the representation for all of black culture.”

The Shonda Rhimes Effect