In the 1970’s, the first popular black sitcoms were Sanford and Son, Good Times, and The Jefferson’s. Most of these were spin-offs of the 1971 sitcom All in the Family, and the 1972 sitcom Maude. Sanford and Son made its debut on NBC on Jan. 14, 1972, while Good times aired on CBS back on Feb. 8, 1974, and then The Jefferson’s also aired on CBS, back on Jan. 18, 1975. Good Times was originally a spin-off of the show Maude, while Maude was a spin-off of All in the Family. These sitcoms were developed by the legendary Norman Lear. We remember these sitcoms because they were so popular at the time, and they were a huge impact on society. In fact, they were so popular that they were all ranked in the #10 slot on the Nielsen’s Ratings during their debuts. However, there was some massive criticism of these sitcoms. Aside from The Jefferson’s, they were portraying a lot of blacks as ghetto, ignorant, and holding a negative stereotype towards blacks. When those programs reinforced the negative stereotypes, these images would prove difficult for whites to disregard and for blacks to overcome. But by the 1980s, there were a couple of shows that changed everything.
The Cosby Show Era
At the start of the 80’s, you had shows such as Different Strokes, Benson, and Gimme a Break. Unfortunately, this was at a time where sitcoms were dead. There was a lot more drama and crime shows on at the time. This was a huge problem that was occurring in the TV industry. But in 1984, there was this one show that changed everything. In the fall of 1984, NBC premiered its new show called The Cosby Show. The Cosby Show was about an upper middle class African-American family living in Brooklyn, New York. What I loved about The Cosby Show was how they portrayed Blacks in a positive light. It was a cultural milestone for not just blacks, but for everyone. It paved the way for a new generation of black family sitcoms. Not only that, it was also the #1 show on Television during its debut, it saved NBC from being last place, and it successfully revived the sitcom genre. This show helped NBC becoming the highest rated network, beating CBS and ABC in the ratings, as well. Three years later, Bill Cosby made a spinoff called A Different World, which was about college students at a fictional HBCU called Hillman College. Those two shows were so successful that while The Cosby Show inspired more African-Americans to become doctors and lawyers, A Different World increased enrollment to HBCUs during the show’s run.
The 90s Sitcom Era
While the 70’s and 80s were a powerful time for black sitcoms, the 90’s also had some good ones, too. There were a lot of popular black sitcoms in the 90s such as The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Family Matters, Hanging With Mr. Cooper, Martin, Living Single, etc. Do I need to say how nostalgic and good these shows are? During that time, everybody loved those shows and they received good reviews from critics, and fans. So, when was the decline of black sitcoms?
The Decline of Black Sitcoms
In 1995, there were two channels developed on television: one being the WB (Warner Bros), and the other being UPN (United Paramount Network). Those two channels had a lot of interesting black sitcoms. You might disagree with me putting this on the declining era of Black sitcoms, but I will explain why.
After The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air ended in 1996 on NBC, there was a slight decrease of black sitcoms on television. Yes, there were some on UPN and WB at the time, but there weren’t a whole lot on the mainstream. I find the late 90s and 2000’s to probably be the dark ages for black sitcoms. While there were some shows such as Moesha, Bernie Mac Show, Everybody Hates Chris, etc on the WB and UPN that were good, they just didn’t have enough energy to attract both black and white audiences. Mainly because during that time, they were overlooked by the popular shows that were on the mainstream networks such as Friends, Survivor, Everybody loves Raymond, and American Idol. And there were also some shows airing on Cable channels like BET for example. In 2006, after the merge of UPN and WB, there were less black sitcoms on the air except for Everybody Hates Chris, Girlfriends, and All of Us, so those three shows were moved to the CW channel, and unfortunately, got cancelled too.
Where are the Black Sitcoms Now?
In the 2010’s era, with the increase of drama and reality TV, there aren’t a lot of black sitcoms on television, sadly. We are having a lot more reality shows on channels like VH1 and MTV such as Love and Hip-Hop, Real Housewives of Atlanta, Basketball Wives and more. Not only do these reality shows portray a more negative stereotype against blacks, but they’re also damaging the entertainment industry and our society.
So where are we in terms of black sitcoms? Well, in 2014, ABC premiered a new show called Black-ish. Black-ish is about Andre and Rainbow Johnson living the lives of an advertiser and doctor while raising four kids. Sound familiar? Black-ish is a saving grace for black sitcoms. A lot of episodes on there are funny and well-written. This show also contains a lot of serious topics. For example, they did an episode in Season 2 about police brutality. What I loved about that episode was when Andre was telling Dr. Rainbow about “hope” when she said that she doesn’t want her kids to live in the world where they can’t have any hope. That scene is not only controversial to what is still happening in our society, but is done brilliantly. I applaud the writers of the show to talk about something like this. To me, Black-ish is basically the return of the traditional black sitcoms. It is one of the shows that is needed in this modern generation.
And that, my friends, is the rise and fall of black sitcoms. Even though there are hardly any black sitcoms on television nowadays except for Black-ish, I will never forget the innovative, funny, and brilliant sitcoms that we used to have in the past. But because of the success of Black-ish, hopefully it will continue the lead of increasing more black sitcoms on television!