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Evolution of Black TV

A Reality Takeover

The Beginning

With black television making its debut in the 70s, it is no surprise that most were spin-offs from popular shows like All in the Family or Maude. Developed by the legendary Norman Lear, these sitcoms became so popular at the time because of the huge impact it shared on black culture and society.

For instance, Sanford and Son was a show about a widower and junk dealer living at 9114 South Central Avenue in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles, California. It featured Fred and his moneymaking schemes that routinely backfired as he searched for ways to get out of working which included him sometimes faking a heart attack. He’s rude, sarcastic, outspoken, overtly prejudiced, and pretty darn nasty to his friends and family.

Sanford and Son stared Redd Foxx as Fred G. Sanford and Demond Wilson as his son Lamont Sanford.

But Sanford and Son nor the Jefferson’s were my reason for tackling this particular subject. As a matter fact, like today, during that time there was some massive criticism of these sitcoms. Aside from The Jefferson’s, they were portraying a lot of blacks as ghetto, ignorant, and holding a negative stereotype towards blacks. When those programs reinforced the negative stereotypes, these images would prove difficult for whites to disregard and for blacks to overcome.  But by the 80s, there was one show that changed the dynamics of everything.

Welcome to the 80s!

A Different World is an American sitcom (and a spin-off of The Cosby Show) that aired for six seasons on NBC from September 24, 1987 to July 9, 1993. The series originally centered on Denise Huxtable (Lisa Bonet) and the life of students at Hillman College, a fictional historically black college in Virginia.

In 1894, NBC premiered its new show called The Cosby Show which featured an upper middle class African-American family living in Brooklyn, New York. The show portrayed Blacks in a positive light and was/still is considered a cultural milestone for not just blacks, but for everyone. As a matter of, it even paved the way for a new generation of black family sitcoms and spin-offs like A Different World. Those two shows were so successful that while The Cosby Show inspired more African-Americans to become doctors and lawyers, A Different World increased enrollment to HBCUs during the show’s run.

Where are all the Black TV Show Now?

With a booming obsession for drama and reality TV, black sitcoms are becoming less and less of a demand. As channels like VH1, Bravo and MTV become more popular, so does the demand for the production of more and more shows like Love and Hip-Hop, Real Housewives of Atlanta and Basketball Wives. These show not portray a more negative stereotype against blacks but reverse the pattern seen in the 70s with the production of earlier sitcoms.

My Project

As mention before, I chose this particular topic because I want to show the full circle that has been made around the culture of Black Television. Not only was it damaging then but it seems like now we have fallen victim again to those same stereotypes but in a different form or fashion.

For this project, I used images of positive shows dating from the 70s to now in the background to create a sense of disconnect and to show how those shows have fallen victim to the growing demand of Black Reality Television.

Check it out!

As always, let me know what you think in the comments below!


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