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Despite Growing Competition, Is There Still Room For One More Black TV Network?

Photo of Tambay A. Obenson By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act August 13, 2013 at 5:11PM

While I'm certainly pleased to see growing competition in the black TV network space encourage chiefs of these networks to invest in new, preferably scripted original dramas and comedies, and while I've previously teased about the increase in the number of new black TV networks in recent years, I still believe that there's room for yet another black TV network that caters to what I call "the rest of us" - by that I mean, those of us who aren't the in the target demos for existing networks like BET (which is dominant in that space, I'd say, in terms of its original programming push), TV One, Bounce TV, ASPiRE TV, Soul Of The South Network, and, quite frankly, Oprah Winfrey's OWN, even though it hasn't officially been branded a black TV network.
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Hmm

While I'm certainly pleased to see growing competition in the black TV network space encourage chiefs of these networks to invest in new, preferably scripted original dramas and comedies, and while I've previously teased about the increase in the number of new black TV networks in recent years, I still believe that there's room for yet another black TV network that caters to what I call "the rest of us" - by that I mean, those of us who aren't the in the target demos for existing networks like BET (which is dominant in that space, I'd say, in terms of its original programming push), TV One, Bounce TV, ASPiRE TVSoul Of The South Network, and, quite frankly, Oprah Winfrey's OWN, even though it hasn't officially been branded a black TV network.  

A popular argument in favor of Tyler Perry's work is that he's making films and TV shows for an audience that was previously ignored and under-served by film and TV studios. I'd borrow that same argument and say that there's a significant black population in the USA that has long been, and continues to be ignored and under-served by film and TV studios - and many of them read this site, I'm sure.

I count myself, and most of my friends and acquaintances as "the rest of us." 

Surprise America! Black people aren't a monolith. We don't all like the same kinds of things - and, you know what, that's perfectly OK! We are a varied people, with different tastes, styles, expectations, wants, desires, etc, and it would be nice if that entire potpourri was represented as close to its full breadth as possible, on the big and small screen.

I recall the quote from Spike Lee's Mo' Better Blues (a quote I've shared on Facebook a few times), when Shadow challenges Bleek's lament about the lack of support they see from black people, stating: "The people don't come because you grandiose muthafuckas don't play shit that they like; if you play the shit that they like, the people will come. Simple as that."

And when I've posted that quote in the past, there's always the question raised about whether or not the people will indeed come, if you "played shit that they like."

I say, look at Tyler Perry's incredible success. His people came, didn't they? Obviously, they like the "shit" that he's playing. 

BET has had a tremendous run with its recent hit series, thanks in part to its deal with The Akils, as well as other plays the network has made, demonstrating its intent to mature into the kind of network that I think many hoped it could be. 

Also take a look at OWN's recent surge as another example.

So there's no reason to believe that a black TV network that caters to "the rest of us" can't also thrive in this competitive environment. 

So what am I looking for exactly, you're probably wondering?

Well - comparisons are the easiest and most direct way to describe what I'd like to see on my TV. So, I'd say that I believe that a black TV network with a primetime programming lineup that resembles an AMC, or the FX network, would be awesome!

I'd love to see ADULT black dramas that can compete with the likes of Breaking Bad, Mad Men, The Walking Dead, American Horror Story, The Americans, The Killing, Justified, Sons Of Anarchy, etc, etc, etc...

Netflix's recent original programming push is also exciting, from The House of Cards, which I really liked, to Orange Is The New Black, which I haven't quite been able to get into, but is something of a darling amongst many black people I know. But I love the effort. And there's still more original programming to come from Netflix.

Note that I'm not asking for "black versions" of all the shows I just mentioned; But black TV programming that can compete for my attention with those critically-acclaimed, commercial TV hits.

Of course, not every single show on AMC or FX is a hit, or is as strong as those I mentioned. Each network does have its share of "fluff." AMC's daytime programming is comprised mostly of old movies; and you'll find a few reality TV series on week nights on most cable and network TV channels. What's key here is that they have a solid primetime lineup of intriguing, risk-taking, adult dramas to compliment. 

Now, I'm certainly not naive. I'm fully aware that good content comes with a price. Sometimes a very high price. Netflix reportedly payed about $100 million for House Of Cards. Even network TV shows like Scandal, cost $2 to $3 million per episode to produce. 

AMC Networks (parent company of AMC TV, the Sundance Channel and IFC Channel) recently announced its earnings for the 2nd quarter of 2013, emphasizing the increased cost of content, which affected its overall earnings growth year-over-year. 

So, I realize that it's a lot easier said than done. Although I think it's, in part, a question of whether profits now is much more important than investing heavily in great content now that eventually pays off later - at least, you hope so.

After all, there are risks involved. Some of your favorite shows, which have become hits for the networks that air them, were passed over by other networks previously. Series that likely seemed like surefire hits initially, to network execs, failed to hold audiences, and eventually crashed and were canceled.

But I truly believe that there's a black audience that's hungry for adult dramas, comedies, thrillers, action series, mystery, horror, and combinations of all of those genres (like those I listed above, and others), with predominantly black characters starring in them, showing us at our best, our worst, our most kind, our most evil, and everything between.

Let me stop and say that I'm certainly not knocking existing black TV networks. As I highlighted earlier, each network has its target audience, and it's short-sighted to think that every single black person is (or the majority of black people are) being reached by these existing networks. There are roughly 40 million black people in the USA; the 6 season premiere episode of The Game this year, drew 2.5 million viewers, by comparison. 

Like I said, we're a varied and diverse people, and while a popular series like The Game clearly speaks to a significant black audience, I and almost every black person I know personally, aren't members of that audience. And, again, that's perfectly OK

The Rickey Smiley Show, which was recently renewed for a second season, suggesting it's doing well enough for the network that carries it (TV One), clearly has its own supportive audience, and, gasp, it actually may not be the same audience that watches The Game, or Being Mary Jane, for example.

The 2 new series Tyler Perry created for OWN have seemingly done well for Oprah's network, but, again, these aren't programs that a lot of us watch.

Shocking, right?

So what about the rest of us who watch TV, looking for what we feel are shows that appeal to and speak to us, that also happen to be created by and star black people? I suppose we could look to the web certainly, especially as what we now know as "TV" in 2013 is being redefined, and isn't quite what it used to be 10 to 15 years ago.

And I suppose that's what a lot of us are doing. Or, if you're like me, you're just not watching a lot of TV. I actually canceled my cable TV subscription a few months ago, and rely on the web, Netflix, Amazon, and my Roku box, for much of my content.

Certainly, existing black TV networks can add the kind of primetime programming that appeals to folks like myself, to their respective lineups, and it may just take a little while to get there. 

Or maybe not. As I said, each has its target demo, and to suddenly introduce programming that doesn't immediately seem like a good fit with that specific audience, could be disastrous - especially financially, given the costs involved.

Although I was pleasantly shocked when I learned that BET had boarded Canadian filmmaker Clement Virgo's anticipated screen adaptation of author Lawrence Hill’s award-winning bestseller, The Book of Negroes.

So maybe that's one answer.

But, to wrap this up, if there existed a black TV network that resembles the one I summarized above, is there a large enough audience to support it, ensuring that these edgy, aggressive, smart, gritty programs of all genres, stay on the air?

Discuss...

This article is related to: TV Features, Things That Make You Go Hmm...


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