Black family sitcoms have provided TV audiences with laughs for decades. Most balanced comedic subject matter with addressing important cultural issues.
Black sitcoms have provided TV audiences with laughs for decades. While most dealt with the traditional comedic subject matter, shows often tackled real-life issues that would provide laughs but also leave lasting impacts.
We’ve compiled a list of some of the Internet Movie Database’s (IMDb) top-rated Black sitcoms. The site offers information on movies, TV shows, actors, producers, etc., provided by regular users and those within the entertainment industry.
Aired: ABC, 1976-1979
Cast: Ernest Thomas, Danielle Spencer, Haywood Nelson
IMDb Rating: 7.0
What’s Happening!! premiered on ABC during the summer of 1976 and was about three Black youths who “learn about life, love, friendship, credit cards, gambling, and a variety of other things while growing up in an inner city,” according to IMDB. The show was a hit in syndication and spawned a spin-off series called What’s Happening Now!!
Aired: UPS/CW, 2000-2008
Cast: Tracee Ellis Ross, Golden Brooks, Jill Marie Jones, Persia White, Reggie Hayes
IMDb Rating: 7.1
Often described as the Black Sex & the City, Girlfriends centered on four successful African-American women juggling friendship, love and careers. Fans of the show were able to identify with the ladies and tried to determine if they were Joan Clayton, the neurotic but lovable attorney; Toni Childs; the fabulous but vain real estate agent; Maya Wilkes, executive assistant-turned-author; or the free spirit Lynn Searcy among their group of friends.
The show was once the longest-running African-American sitcom on television before its abrupt cancellation in 2008.
Aired: ABC, 2014- Present
Cast: Anthony Anderson, Tracee Ellis Ross, Yara Shahidi, Jenifer Lewis, Miles Brown, Marcus Scribner, Marsai Martin and Laurence Fishburne
IMDb Rating: 7.1
Black-ish is a very smart comedy by writer and producer Kenya Burris. The show offers an interesting take on what it’s like being Black in America by showing that Blackness isn’t monolithic. The show follows Andre “Dre” Johnson Sr. (Anthony Anderson) and Dr. Rainbow “Bow” Johnson (Tracee Ellis Ross) raising their five kids. The show is continuously relevant and not afraid to address topics of racism, the N-word, the 2016 presidential election and even postpartum depression.
Ross earned a Golden Globe for her portrayal of Bow, and a spin-off series, grown-ish, premiered in 2018 starring Yara Shahidi on Freeform.
7. One on One
Aired: UPN, 2001-2006
Cast: Flex Alexander, Kyla Pratt, Robert Ri’Chard, Sicily
IMDb Rating: 7.2
One on One starred Flex Alexander as a sportscaster who had to adjust his life when his teenage daughter Breanna (Kyla Pratt) comes to live with him in Baltimore. The show aired on UPN for five seasons.
Aired: The WB, 1995-1999
Cast: Shawn Wayans, Marlon Wayans, John Witherspoon, Anna Marie Horsford
IMDb Rating: 7.3
The Wayans Bros. was one of the shows that helped launch the WB television network in 1995. It starred Shawn and Marlon Wayans as brothers who ran a newsstand in New York City, where they interacted with their father, “Pops,” played by John Witherspoon. The series ended abruptly after its fifth season and did not have a proper finale.
Aired: Fox, 1993-1998
Cast: Queen Latifah, Kim Coles, Erika Alexander, Kim Fields, T.C. Carson, John Henton
IMDb Rating: 7.3
When Living Single premiered in 1993, it gave 20-something Black viewers a chance to see themselves on screen. The show centered around six friends living in Brooklyn as they navigated love, friendship, sex and their careers.
It also was the inspiration behind the hit NBC sitcom Friends, which also features six friends living in New York City.
Fans who can’t get enough of the show can watch the series on Hulu.
Aired: Fox, 1992-1997
Cast: Martin Lawrence, Tisha Campbell, Tichina Arnold, Thomas Ford, Carl Anthony Payne
IMDb Rating: 7.4
Martin is the quintessential Black sitcom and helped usher in a wave of classic sitcoms geared toward African-Americans in the 1990s. The show starred Martin Lawrence as Martin Payne, a DJ living in Detroit with his girlfriend, Gina (Tisha Campbell), and revolved around his relationships with her, her best friend Pam and his friends. The show was at its best whenever Martin and Pam butted heads, which was always, or whenever Lawrence portrayed the loud and feisty Sheneneh Jenkins, who frequently gathered the group with her sharp quips.
Aired: NBC, 1984-1992
Cast: Bill Cosby, Phylicia Rashad, Lisa Bonet, Tempestt Bledsoe, Malcolm-Jamal Warner, Keshia Knight Pulliam, Sabrina Le Beauf, Raven Symoné
IMDb Rating: 7.4
When The Cosby Show premiered in 1984, it became one of the biggest hits on television and one of the most successful sitcoms of all time. The show centered on the Huxtables, an upper-middle class Black family living in Brooklyn. It starred Bill Cosby as Heathcliff Huxtable, an obstetrician raising his five kids with his wife, Claire, an attorney, played by the divine Phylicia Rashad. For many viewers, it was the first time seeing an upper-middle class Black family on television.
The show won six Emmy Awards, and Cliff Huxtable was named television’s greatest dad by TV Guide.
Aired: CBS, 1975-1985
Cast: Sherman Hemsley, Isabel Sanford, Marla Gibbs
IMDB Rating: 7.5
The Jeffersons followed an upwardly mobile African-American family as they moved from their home working-class neighborhood in Queens into a luxury apartment in Manhattan. The show became the second- longest-running African-American sitcom on television, airing 254 episodes in the 10 years it was on the air. It was a spin-off of another wildly successful CBS show, All in the Family.
Aired: NBC, 1990-1996
Cast: Will Smith, James Avery, Alfonso Ribeiro, Tatyana Ali, Janet Hubert-Whitten, Daphne Maxwell Reid, Karyn Parsons, Joseph Marcell
IMDb Rating: 7.9
“In West Philadelphia born and raised …” Most people in the English-speaking world know the theme song of the classic NBC sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. The show starred Will Smith as a Philadelphia teen sent to live with his aunt, uncle and cousins in Bel-Air, a wealthy neighborhood in Los Angeles.
Despite its hilarious moments, the show dealt with gun violence, drug use and issues of race. The Fresh Prince showed the world that Smith wasn’t only a rapper but also an actor–one who would later become one of the biggest movie stars in the world.
Aired: NBC, 1987-1993
Cast: Lisa Bonet, Jasmine Guy, Kadeem Hardison, Dawnn Lewis, Cree Summer, Jada Pinkett
IMDb Rating: 6.9
A Different World had many wanting to attend the fictional Hillman College. The show, a spin-off of The Cosby Show, initially centered around Denise Huxtable (Lisa Bonet) as she navigated a historically Black college.
The show dealt with pressing issues such as sexual assault, the HIV/AIDS epidemic and racial profiling, all while depicting college life at an HBCU.
Bonet left the show after the first season, and the series shifted to focus on Whitley Gilbert (Jasmine Guy) and Dwayne Wayne (Kadeem Hardison) as they navigated college and their romantic relationship.