The announcement of Terrence Jenkins (best known as 'Terrence J.' during his 106 and Park days) and former NFL star Michael Strahan becoming the new faces of E! News and Live! with Kelly came not only on the same day, but as a pleasant surprise.
With the broadcast television industry in serious need of a facelift, Jenkins and Strahan may very well usher in a new wave of diversity. Live! will join the ranks of The View, which has long led the pack on daytime television as a shining example of how African-American inclusion can benefit a show; with the appointment of Terrence J., E! News enters the waters of diversity in casting its first African-American anchor. While E! News and other programs such as Extra and Access Hollywood have opened windows of opportunity for African-Americans, they have mostly served in the capacity of correspondents and weekend hosts–nothing as major as a lead weekday anchor.
The additions of Jenkins and Strahan are admirable business decisions, those that many networks are not necessarily willing to make as they are considered to be a gamble of ratings. Shows like E! News and Live!, while multi-racial in viewership at best, have traditionally carried a brand of one-sidedness in representation. One would think in the Obama-era we live today, that the level of diversity in broadcast television wouldn’t be in such short supply. That lacking stock of racial variety makes these two television shake-ups all the more meaningful.
When one considers the men who once filled the seats these two have filled–Regis Philbin and Ryan Seacrest–it puts their employment in perspective. As talented and deserving as Terrence J. and Michael Strahan are, it surely was not expected. But maybe the these recruitments point to a significant shift in the way in which producers and executives are thinking about the business of television. Maybe they finally realize that diversity doesn’t kill ratings, but actually boosts them, evidenced by Live! with Kelly and Michael’s U.S. market rating dominance on Strahan’s debut episode. Why not include an often excluded demographic by giving them proper representation? After all, viewers are more inclined to stay tuned in when they can closely identify with a host, and sometimes that identification includes seeing someone that actually looks like you.
The cultural significance of the upward mobility of Terrence J and Strahan against Whitewashed television is hard to ignore, particularly because they are African-American men co-hosting with attractive White women. Let’s not forget the menacing Black male stereotype that historically existed between African-American men and White women in media. With Black women making a rise in broadcast television–Gayle King, Wendy Williams, Whoopi Goldberg, Sherri Shepherd, among others–it is encouraging to see Black men join them amongst the ranks of television professionals.
What can be learned from Terrence and Strahan is that hard work is starting to pay off for Black television hopefuls. Terrence, a graduate of an HBCU in North Carolina, and Strahan, a six-feet-tall former football player, have an unlikely blueprint to their success, but what stood out was their individuality and undisputed work ethic. But of course it would be naive to think that the fight for diversity ends here. The television industry has a bit ways to go, as representations of Black America and its sensibilities continues to be predominantly reflected in niche networks BET and TV One, and other demographics such as the gay Black community continue to reach for their piece of the pie. But at least we can pause for a moment of victory.