Shows like “Martin” and “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” dominated the television airwaves in the 90s. With United Paramount Network (UPN) also backing small screen classics like “Girlfriends,” “The Parkers” and “All of Us” at the time, Black families were represented on television like never before. In September 2006, however, UPN ceased production and broadcasting, merging with The WB to create a new network called The CW. When The CW’s television slate was released, there were quite a few notable exclusions. Several Black sitcoms, including “Eve,” “Half & Half” and “One on One,” did not survive the merger. As The CW grew in popularity, most of the Black UPN shows that pulled through initially were eventually canceled. Others – “Moesha,” for example – ended on major cliffhangers (like, who did that pregnancy test in Moesha’s dorm room belong to?!). The 80s and 90s were filled with small screen representation for the Black community, but after the UPN merger, Black TV certainly hit a decline – that is, until fairly recently.
Fast forward to 2022, and Black television is experiencing a renaissance like no other. To many viewers’ surprise, one of the most prominent leaders of this new resurgence is none other than rapper-turned-executive television producer, 50 Cent. Recently, 50 took to Instagram to share an extraordinary statistic. The entertainment mogul has had a hand in the top three most-watched television shows in Black households: “Power Book II: Ghost,” “Power Book III: Raising Kanan,” and “BMF.” 50 shows no plans of slowing down anytime soon either, as he has several upcoming series set to premiere this year and beyond. One of his impending titles, “Angel’s Playbook,” is inspired by Nicole Lynn, the first Black woman to represent a top-three NFL draft pick. The next installment in 50’s “Power” franchise, “Power Book V: Influence,” stars Larenz Tate and is also set to premiere later this year.
It isn’t just 50 Cent who has become a crucial player in this new era of Black TV. Issa Rae recently ended her incredibly successful HBO show “Insecure” and is working on a new series titled “Rap Sh*t” for HBO Max. “Insecure” had a phenomenal impact on the culture during its run. Rae and the cast trended on Twitter every week whenever a new season aired, sparking insightful conversations about real-life situations that affect the Black community on a daily basis. One of the greatest parts about the show was that, after five seasons, Rae gave viewers a happy ending. While so many Black series have closed on a painful and sad note, the TV star was sure to give “Insecure” fans an optimistic finale, with each character finding a sense of hope, light and love. Her newest project, “Rap Sh*t,” is set to be a half-hour comedy series and has reportedly been in development since 2019. Syreeta Singleton is the slated showrunner, and Rae is on as head writer. The two will executive produce the series alongside current hip hop favorites, JT and Yung Miami of the City Girls.
While Issa Rae has already accomplished so much, she’s clearly just getting started. In 2021, the young icon inked an incredibly lucrative five-year overall deal with HBO. The partnership is reported to be worth over $40 million, so we can certainly look forward to Rae feeding the culture her unique brand of content for years to come.
Quinta Brunson is another exciting name leading the current era of Black television. The actress, comedian, writer and producer has a gem on her hands with “Abbott Elementary.” The series follows a group of teachers who are brought together in one of the worst public schools in the country. In January, the show became the first ABC comedy series to quadruple its ratings since its original airing. According to Deadline, the mockumentary-style title increased its viewership from 2.79 million to 7.1 million in just 35 days. The show features a nearly all-Black ensemble cast that includes Brunson, Tyler James Williams, Janelle James, William Stanford Davis and Sheryl Lee Ralph. Like “Insecure,” “Abbott Elementary” has become a trending topic on social media each time a new episode is released. With that in mind, a renewal for a second season is highly probable.
Celebrating today’s small screen innovators is a must, but we can’t talk Black TV without talking Mara Brock Akil, who’s been running the game for decades. As the creator of several classic shows, including “Girlfriends,” “The Game,” “Being Mary Jane” and “Black Lightning,” Akil’s impact on the reemergence of Black television is extraordinary. One of few storytellers with a long list of iconic shows under her belt, it’s clear the television O.G. is nowhere near done making shows that resonate with our culture. In fact, the screenwriter and producer signed a multi-year deal with Netflix at the end of 2020, which will allow her to develop and release content through her production company, story27.
“I’m excited to have a home that allows me the creative freedom and support to do what I do best — paint portraits and murals of women, Black people and anyone else whose story is missing from this golden age of television. Representation matters and so does who you build with — I can’t wait to work closely with Channing Dungey and her team to launch some great stories,” Akil said of the deal at the time, calling the partnership with Netflix a “dream” collaboration.
Akil’s influence on television, and particularly Black television, is undeniable. There would be no “Insecure” without “The Game” or “Girlfriends” and no “Raising Dion” without “Black Lightning.” The living legend has always had a remarkable knack for storytelling, and it’s thanks to trailblazers like her that we’re now seeing Black experiences highlighted on screen in an authentic way. Pioneers like Akil, Tyler Perry, Yvette Lee Bowser (“Living Single,” “Half & Half”) and so many others have demonstrated that Black stories aren’t just worth telling — they’re worth telling on the biggest platforms possible.
What we’re witnessing right now is only the start of Black TV’s newest and most influential era. The creators who came before us kicked the door down. Now, thanks to their perseverance, the incredibly passionate storytellers of today are taking over – one hit show at a time.
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