Photo by: (Left): Diahann Carroll by Bettmann/Contributor. (Middle): The Cast of The Jeffersons by Bettmann/ Contributor. (Right): Mo’Nique by Mathew Imaging/FilmMagic.
As we continue celebrating the culture during Black History Month, we must look at our past to continue making great strides.
And if you know TV One, then you know that we are all about pushing out the proper representation, especially when it comes to our very own TV Onederland sitcoms!
Let’s get into the evolution of Black sitcoms, shall we?
As we know since the beginning of the invention of television Black people have always made appearances on the medium. Actress and blues singer, Ethel Waters, was the first African American to star in her own television show and to be nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award.
However, due to the severe racist practices of Hollywood, Black actors were still not represented properly. Dating back to the 20th Century, we witnessed Black actors solely cast in stereotypical/racist roles, such as minstrelsy.
If there were Black characters, oftentimes white actors would engage in blackface and pretend to be Black people.
Shows such as Amos ‘n’ Andy, have heavily depended on the racist stereotypes of Black people, despite having a Black cast.
As a result of its racist bias, and controversy Amos ‘n’ Andy was cancelled, which left a gap within the lack of Black representation on television.
However, in the 1960s, we’ve seen a switch within the television industry where barriers were broken, and more Black actors, directors, etc. emerged stating a new standard/various positive representations of the community.
Black sitcoms such as Julia, starring the late Diahann Carroll who played a widowed middle-class nurse rearing a young kid in the suburbs, became the first African American woman to get an Emmy nomination.
The sitcom Julia was criticized at the time for primarily avoiding social and racial issues and for failing to accurately portray the lives of most Black Americans, but it is today regarded as ground-breaking.
From there we’ve seen shows such as Good Times, created by Norman Lear we’ve seen the portrayal of the Black family dynamic during the 1970s. With topics such as racial issues, financial struggles, and everyday life in the Chicago projects, the sitcom became widely popular as it shed light on families’ everyday struggles.
Jimmie Walker’s (who played the eldest child JJ Evans) expression Dy-no-mite! became an expression of the mid-1970s. It ranked number fourteen in TV Guide’s list of “TV’s 20 Top Catchphrases.”
Although Good Times was widely popular amongst the Black community, the beloved sitcom faced controversy.
Actor John Amos, who played James Evans, Sr. voiced his opinion on the lack of diversity amongst the show’s writers and the overall negative stereotypical portrayal of the character JJ Evans. He was eventually fired.
In 1972, Lear provided an answer to the hit show All in the Family with the hit sitcom Sanford and Son, starring Redd Foxx, and Demond Wilson.
Although Sanford and Son was based on a British show, Steptoe and Son, Sanford and Son acted as a catalyst for Black sitcoms to come afterward. Fans fell in love with the show’s humor around race, and its running/reoccurring jokes, as Fred Sanford’s get-rich-quick schemes failed to leave him and his son Lamont in various troubling situations.
Fun fact, Redd Foxx claimed that he developed Fred’s wobbly walk because at the beginning of the series they had given him heavy shoes.
Black sitcoms such as What’s Happening!! provided the youth of the mid-1970s with new perspectives on life, love, and friendship, as viewers followed the lives of three teenagers that hail from Watts, California.
Although they played high school juniors in the first season, Ernest Thomas was 27 and Fred Berry was 25. Only 16-year-old Haywood Nelson was of high school age.
In 1975, we began to see a different portrayal of a Black family with the hit sitcom The Jeffersons.
The Jeffersons lasted for 11 seasons, making it the longest-running sitcom to feature a predominately African American cast where we saw interracial couples. The show often offered viewers a new perspective on how topics of race were discussed unapologetically.
After seeing successful Black families, we saw the further evolution of Black sitcoms. We witnessed the greatness of shows such as the Cosby Show, A Different World, and Family Matters provide a sense of hope, Black pride, and a positive image of Black families, and their children going off to HBCUs!
In the 1990s and early 2000s, we saw the evolution of what life was like for Black people within their teenage years through their 20s. With shows like Moesha, The Parkers, Living Single, Girlfriends, and One on One, fans learned valuable life lessons such as friendships, dating, the workforce, and entering the real world leaving a cultural impact on the community!
Now that we looked at the evolution of Black sitcoms, here’s some more fun facts that you might not have heard about of your favorite Black sitcoms!
The Parkers was the #1 most watched sitcom in Black American households for all five seasons. Girlfriends premiered on September 11, 2000, on UPN and aired UPN’s successor network, The CW, before being cancelled in 2008.
The set used during the first episode of Living Single, was the same set used on the sitcom Family Matters. The pilot of One on One was shot when Kyla Pratt was 12 and the show didn’t get picked up until she was 14. This is why Pratt appeared older in season 1, episode 2 than in the pilot.
Bernie Mac was originally hesitant about doing the show for fear it would tone down his comedic style.
Tell us what was your favorite Black sitcom growing up? Be sure to join us every Saturday as we enjoy some of our favorite TV Onederland sitcoms!
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