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Programs w/ Black Leads Dominate VH1's Top 5 Shows In 2013. Shifting Trends?

by Tambay A. Obenson
October 28, 2013 4:06 PM
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Here's an interesting chart (courtesy of Bloomberg) I thought was worth sharing with you all. As it states, these are VH1's top 5 shows in terms of total viewers, from December 2012 to October 2013. Not quite a full year, but close enough.

Love & Hip-Hop: Atlanta, T.I. & Tiny, Marrying The Game, Hit The Floor, and Basketball Wives.

What do they all have in common?

In the full Bloomberg interview from where I lifted the chart (see the video below), VH1 President Tom Calderone talks specifically about the success of the TLC biopic which his network aired last week, and which became the its most watched original movie ever! The conversation segues into the network's overall secrets to its current success, and growth. It's worth watching.

But it never occurred to me to investigate VH1's top-ranked series, and so it was a bit of a surprise to see the contents of this chart, on my TV screen, as I watched the interview.

Every single one of the top 5 shows above, essentially the network's bread & butter, are all so-called "black-themed" programs, which is even more interesting when you consider that VH1 is not a black TV network.

And while I'm sure each of these series has some cross-over reach, I'd argue that black people make up the majority of the audience watching them.

I'm working on a longer piece that takes a look at what I think seems to be something of a landscape shift towards TV programming that is more inclusive of "black shows," or shows with black people in leading roles, than we've seen maybe since the early 1990s. I'm still researching, so I can't say this is a definite trend, but it would make sense, with shows like Scandal, Orange Is The New Black, Sleepy Hollow, American Horror Story: Coven, and more (including the above 5 programs that are carrying the VH1 network currently, as well as the growth Oprah Winfrey's OWN network has seen since its own shift in programming a year ago, after an early troubled start) seeing record ratings, which I've attributed in part because each of these series feature black actors in starring, or prominent roles this season, and some of them are actually well put together.

Surprise America! Black people like to see themselves on TV (and film) too! And, you know what, our tastes are varied, since we are a varied people. We don't all like the same things, as you can see in the variety of the 10 or so programs mentioned within this post. And that's just fine too! 

But, as the saying goes, if you build it, they will (sometimes) come.

I'll, once again, reference the new study from UCLA's Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies, which I published 2 weeks ago, which revealed that TV shows with ethnically diverse cast members and writers, attract much larger audiences than shows with less diversity in their cast and crew. 

And while it shouldn't be a surprise, it might take a study like this (titled "Hollywood Diversity Brief: Spotlight on Cable Television") to convince studio decision makers that there is indeed enough of a reason to build more TV series (and movies), around the lives of diverse groups of characters - like the above.

The study comes to us despite the fact that, as other studies continue to report each year, women and minorities are still terribly underrepresented in leading roles and staff positions, on both cable and broadcast TV programs. Although, as I noted, I'm sensing that there might be a definite shift. Earlier today, it was announced that ABC had put into development, a crime drama series from 12 Years A Slave scribe John Ridley. This news comes not long after the same network also put into development new projects from Shonda Rhimes (who already has a home at ABC), Kevin HartKeenen Ivory Wayans, and Kenya Barris, suggesting that the network seems to be setting itself up as the preferred broadcast TV network for black content creators. Or maybe it sees how well certain shows with black leads are performing (one of them already on the network), and the ever-increasing competition for our eyeballs, and has been encouraged to do something more.

We can only hope that this recognition of a direct relationship between diversity among cast members and writers, and each company's bottom line, continues to inspire even more varied work with black (and members from every other *minority* group) leads.

The overall complexion of the world - specifically the USA - is gradually changing, and it's something that should not be ignored, especially if you're creating content for a mass, mainstream audience. We all want to see ourselves on screen - at least I certainly think so. Quite a bold concept, isn't it?

I don't have cable TV, so the above 5 shows aren't series that I've watched with any frequency. But clearly a lot of you are tuning in, given the success each is currently enjoying, and how well they're doing for the network. Not my cup of tea, but I can't knock them either. As I said, our tastes vary, and that's a good thing!

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  • lilkunta | October 29, 2013 2:31 PMReply

    tambay if you dont have cable what do you have or use ?

  • Miles Ellison | October 28, 2013 11:38 PMReply

    4 of those VH-1 programs are bad reality shows, and at least 3 of them are the same show. Not exactly a renaissance.

  • lilkunta | October 29, 2013 2:29 PM

    @miles EXACTLY. Bad bad reality shows. Cheap to produce and vh1 makes millions.
    The only decent ones are Tiny The Family Hustle and Hit The Floor. I stopped watching both but I will again if it means LHH( all cities) and Basketball Wives(all cities, and NONE OF WIVES) and Marrying The Game would be cancelled.

  • politicallyincorrect | October 28, 2013 10:09 PMReply

    People watch Marrying the Game? I think some people just keep the TV on

  • Anti-believer | October 28, 2013 11:24 PM

    Yeah it's The Game... every tv in his house. This show is so fake, I swear. His so-called fiance reacts to every situation the same... mediocre. I doubt they are really fvcking.

  • dancelover51 | October 28, 2013 6:17 PMReply

    VH1 decided several years ago that Black Women were going to be their key market. I honestly believed it started after "I love NY" spun off from Flavor Flav's reality shot. I think VH1 discovered this market and has not looked back. Other networks have followed suit. I may get some heat for this but I believe the success of Black reality series(specifically aimed at Black women) has opened the door for the success of Black women now being featured in major network scripted programming. It seems that we are now one of the new coveted markets.

  • Miles Ellison | October 29, 2013 9:31 PM

    Scandal was greenlit by ABC because Shonda Rimes created Grey's Anatomy, which was a long-running hit for the network. It had nothing to do with VH-1's talent-poor train wreck reality blackface.

  • lilkunta | October 29, 2013 2:26 PM

    @dancelover51 I agree about vh1 deciding afr am ladies are there market.
    but i disagree that sad success of these horrible reality shows is why there is
    scandal, sleepy hollow, being marry jane, and there was Deception(i wish that show hadnt been cancelled)

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