For far too long Hollywood told audiences of color shows featuring diverse casts were too niche to be popular. While the 1990s and early 2000s saw a flood of Black TV, with sitcoms and dramas like Martin, Living Single, Girlfriends, and A Different World ruling the airwaves, by the mid-noughties, however, shows featuring Black casts were replaced in favor of more “mainstream” productions.
But thankfully, times have changed.
Bolstered by the return of Mara Brock Akil’s hit drama The Game, which shattered records to become the most-watched sitcom premiere in cable TV history when it debuted on BET in 2011, we now have a slew of shows featuring Black casts and characters. And Hollywood is quickly learning, those shows are not only popular with Black folks, but other audiences enjoy them as well.
According to a new report by Nielsen, ABC’s Black-ish, Secrets and Lies, Scandal, and How to Get Away with Murder; Fox’s Pitch and Rosewood; HBO’s Insecure and FX’s Atlanta all average more than 50 percent non-Black viewership. Additionally, shows like NBC’s This Is Us, which features Black characters prominently, are also a hit with audiences of all backgrounds.
Nielsen’s Senior Vice President of Communications and Multicultural Marketing says his company’s findings run counter to the idea that America is more divided than ever.
“Much of the American narrative lately has focused on a growing cultural divide. But Nielsen’s data on television programming show something different,” says Andrew McCaskill, Senior Vice President, Communications and Multicultural Marketing, at Nielsen. “Storylines with a strong black character or identity are crossing cultural boundaries to grab diverse audiences and start conversations. That insight is important for culture and content creators, as well as manufacturers and retailers looking to create engaging, high-impact advertising campaigns.”
To many, 2016 was a banner year for Black folks both on the big and small screen. Whether or not it signals a permanent shift for Hollywood remains to be seen, but we sure hope this trend continues.