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The Year in Black Television

Shadow and Act By Curtis Caesar John | Shadow and Act December 28, 2012 at 1:48PM

Creatively, 2012 wasn’t even close for being the best of years for Black television, but there were some significant happenings including Andre Braugher’s short return to primetime television and the loss of some recent great characters and show like Leverage. 
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clockwise from top left: Andre Braugher (Last Resort), Tracee Ellis Ross & Malcolm Jamal-Warner (Reed Between The Lines), Ashley Walters (Inside Men), Harold Perrineau (Wedding Band), Jasika Nicole (Fringe), Sherman Hemsley (The Jeffersons)
clockwise from top left: Andre Braugher (Last Resort), Tracee Ellis Ross & Malcolm Jamal-Warner (Reed Between The Lines), Ashley Walters (Inside Men), Harold Perrineau (Wedding Band), Jasika Nicole (Fringe), Sherman Hemsley (The Jeffersons)

Creatively, 2012 wasn’t even close for being the best of years for Black television, but there were some significant happenings including Andre Braugher’s short return to primetime television and the loss of some recent great characters and show like Leverage. 

The Industy Vets

Tia Mowry-Hardict, the star of The Game, has left that show after five seasons, 95 episodes, and a network change (with a two year hiatus) from the WB (later the CW) to BET.  She says it was over money, which prompted her co-star and TV husband Pooch Hall to leave as well, though he returned to the show this past August. I guess BET could afford one but not both of them.  Her character Melanie had become increasingly, rather stupidly, erratic and dangerous. All the other characters had good growth and significant changes happening to them while Melanie, finally a bit more street smart, descended into chaotic chicken-head like behaviors she previously fought so hard to dispel - so to me they did all they could do with her character, which she may have thought as well. Brandy remains on the show as Chardonnay (groan), a character that has grown on me since her initial casting, and reportedly Lauren London will be a semi-replacement for Melanie, playing the wife of a new player. Updates on that remain to be seen. 

Meanwhile, Mowry-Hardict has filmed a predictable sounding pilot for Nick at Nite that will hopefully make the air next year called Instant Mom. Co-starring with Sheryl Lee Ralph (Moesha, It’s A Living) as her mother-in-law (there’s always a mother-in-law in these kind of shows), her 25-year old party girl character marries an older man with kids.  No doubt that the kids will be both precocious and smart-mouthed.  Duane Martin (All of Us, Out All Night) was slated as Mowry’s character’s new husband (weird now that Martin is regarded as an ‘older man’) but was recently replaced by Michael Boatman (Spin City, The Good Wife), which makes more sense as an ‘older’ man.  Thing is, no offense Boatman – I’ve sung your praises here before – I can’t see Mowry as your wife, but I’ll suppose we’ll wait and see how that turns out. 

Leslie David Baker and Craig Robinson are still going strong on The Office.  While Baker’s character Stanley hasn’t contributed much this final season of the show, his presence is felt on occasion.  Between being the first to cosign a break from working or going out to get free food (which sounds like he’s kind of a bad black stereotype as I type it), Stanley is inching at retirement and eager to get the hell out of the paper company Dunder-Mifflin. Meanwhile Robinson’s always amusing character Darryl, out of the loading dock and newly appointed as assistant regional manager, has been unofficially moved into the Top Five of the main show characters due to his consistent presence in hit movies.  Hopefully Darryl will have a happy ending when The Office ends next Spring. 

Meanwhile Astrid Farnsworth on Fringe, played by Jasika Nicole, was the only cast member aside from the three mains to become a regular character in this fifth and final season.  She’s still practically a lab assistant to Walter and with the seriousness of these final episodes she hasn’t been able to be the butt of Walter’s weirdness.  In the second half of the previous season audiences were blessed to see Astrid’s alternate universe self, Agent Farnsworth, who although extremely capable suffered from some form of autism and could barely look at people in the face much less crack a smile – this allowed Nicole to stretch her acting abilities and was a welcome site for such an underrated actor. Nicole’s character Astrid remains a pragmatic and valuable member of the team and Fringe fans are waiting to see how her storyline ends.   Lance Riddick has only reappeared as the team’s one time supervisor Phillip Broyles once this new season, but hopefully we’ll see him again before Fringe ends next month. 

But regrettably, Up All Night is still on the air. Last year I remarked on how good the show was. Well, the emphasis is on was as the entire dynamic of the show has changed and Maya Rudolph’s Ava Alexander is no longer a talk-show host and is now pretty boring and unfunny.  It’s amazing how they ruined this show. 

Thankfully the Brits saved a bit of the 2012 TV season with BBC America’s airing of the miniseries Inside Men. The crime drama, with three of the episodes told from the perspective of the three employees of a security depot who plan and execute a multi-million pound cash heist co-starred Ashley Walters, most recently known for Top Boy, but also well known for the 2011 sci-fi miniseries Outcasts and crime caper show Hustle (all on BBC).  Walter’s was also in the 50 Cent’s biopic Get Rich or Die Tryin’.

Gone But Not Forgotten

In case anyone missed reports from the other writers over the past month, the best show with a Black star on television, Andre Braugher’s thriller Last Resort, has indeed been canceled.  Between being given a horrible time slot and little in the way of comparable advertising, and not being a predictable procedural, this was inevitable.  Last Resort’s thirteenth and final episode airs on January 24 and if the past three episodes are any indication, it will go out with a bang. 

I do think Last Resortcould have benefited from something NBC was smart enough to do – A LOT of early promotions, mostly including extra-early premieres. That’s something that one of the consistently worst shows (behind Partners and The Mob Doctor) of the new season, Revolution - a show that I regrettably gave a good review to – did extremely successfully allowing potential fans to embrace it ratings-wise (people like free ish!) and making NBC order a full season, something they probably now regret creatively, clearly from them not even returning it to the schedule without The Voice as a lead in, as NBC president of entertainment Jennifer Salke states in the most recent issue of The Hollywood Reporter, “It's very tempting to take The Voice and use it also to launch other things, but we're realists. We all work in this business, and we see what the failure rate is. When you have a show that's working the way Revolution seems to be working, you've got to do everything to protect that. It's just too fickle of a marketplace.”  Still, Giancarlo Esposito remains the most consistent character and actor on the creatively suffering show, though a few guest stars like Jeff Fahey, David Meunier, and Mark Pelligrino.

While said methodology is sound, the show still has to have “that thing” that makes people want to tune in regularly, and the dystopian, no electrical power, sword-wielding future of Revolution has that where the also-early premiered but quickly canceled Animal Practice (which co-starred comedic actress Kym Whitley) did not, even though they had the hilarious Crystal the Monkey from The Hangover movies (he was also the monkey from the Olympic Games advert that NBC ran after highlighting Gabby Douglas).  Of course, Animal Practice also had Asian-Uncle Tom Bobby Lee in it, so perhaps the cancelation was well deserved. 

TNT unceremoniously canceled fan favorite show Leverage last week with its final episode airing on Christmas Day, with less than a week's notice.  Thankfully the producers felt this coming and filmed the fifth season finale as a series finale wrapping up multiple storylines. It was difficult to see the show go, especially knowing I won’t be able to see my favorite character the computer genius Alec Hardison, played by the wonderful Aldis Hodge, come up with new and fantastic devices and such. Still, the show had a good run and I feel will live on well in repeats.   It did go out on a high note though:  According to TVSeriesFinale.com, the series finale drew 3.04 million viewers to the with a 0.7 demo rating. That represents a 36% bump in viewership when compared to the previous week's installment. It was also nearly the show's best viewer number since the season premiere on July 15th (3.39 million). Compared to last season's finale on January 15th, TNT was up by 19% vs 2.55 million.  The final season of Leverage averaged a 0.7 rating in the 18-49 demographic with 2.48 million total viewers. Compared to season four, the show was down by 13% in the demo (vs a 0.8 rating) and down by 10% in viewers (vs 2.76 million). Obviously, this led to its departure.  The final episode should repeat sometime this weekend, so look out for it.

We also lost Eureka this year, starring Salli Richardson-Whitfield and Joe Morton.  Eureka was a fun and expertly done show on the SyFy network (originally, Sci-Fi Channel) and I wrote a whole memorium to its greatness this past summer, which can be found HERE.  http://blogs.indiewire.com/shadowandact/this-week-in-black-television-eureka-approaches-its-swan-song-and-shows-how-to-do-color-blind-casting-the-right-way

Gone But Kind of Forgotten

666 Park Avenue, another ABC show, co-starring a neutered Vanessa  L. Williams, so great as a baddie on Ugly Betty and Desperate Housewives, as well as the fantastic young actress Samantha Logan, is cancelled as well and the victim of another good concept that just could not find its footing early enough.  Hopefully we’ll see these ladies in something else soon.  ABC is so regretful of the show that they will, according to Vulture.com, replace it on Sunday nights with reruns of Happy Endings and Don’t Trust the B*&#^ in Apartment 23, two funny yet ratings somewhat suffering shows co-starring Damon Wayans Jr. and Erica Andre, respectively.

You have got to watch these clips of Wayans, and then the entire Happy Endings cast, dancing with Hip-Hop Santa:

The L.A. Complex was also dropped this year and will have no official third season on American television.  Co-starring Benjamin Charles Watson and Andra Fuller, the show caught the attention of Black audiences after featuring the latter actor’s character Kaldrick as an ultra-macho rapper who is in ‘the closet’ and befriends wanna-be music producer Tariq, played by Watson.  Produced by Canadian-company Eptiome Pictures, long-time producers of Degrassi: The Next Generation (with co-executive Linda Schulyer being the producer behind its progenitor Degrassi Jr. High/High) and Stefan Brogen, and actor and of late producer and director of Degrassi as Complex’s executive producer, whether the show can have a life in Canada still remains to be seen.  Hopefully it can, if no other reason than to see a sexy grown up Cassie Steele fromDegrassi continue in her role of Abby Vargas.

ALSO, Reed Between the Lines seems to be in limbo. We haven’t heard anything about it since Tracee Ellis Ross left the show to do a pilot for NBC, Bad Girls, which never got picked up and was slated to be replaced by a trio of other actors there to support series star Malcolm Jamal-Warner’s Alex after Carla and he separate when she moves to get her dream job: his friends played by Tony Rock (All of Us) and Michole White (an underrated actress I’ve adored since 100 Centre Street) and his father played by Charlie Robinson, who played Mac on Night Court and has been a curmudgeon guest-star veteran ever since and currently plays a recurring role on the CW’s Hart of Dixie alongside Cress Williams (y’know, Scooter from Living Single) and his TV daughter on that show, Golden Brooks of Girlfriends fame.   Still, the fact that’s he’s left to raise the kids makes zero sense since the two oldest are her kids! This may be why we haven’t heard any updates.  The show itself is pretty corny, but I like see Warner working so for me it’s worth it just for that. 

USA network drama Common Law starring Michael Ealy was also was cancelled. The show had a promising start but was very one note and never really caught one with audiences during its one and only season.

Gone and Thankfully Forgotten

Dog the Bounty Hunter’s eponymous show, which a few years ago returned after a hiatus amid remarks in which the Dog himself made racist statements over the phone about his son’s Black girlfriend, statements which were audio-taped and sold to The National Enquirer, was finally official cancelled. Good riddance to long-time rubbish.

Glee, which only ever sported two Black regulars on the show, Amber Riley and Naya Rivera, the latter of whom I recently discovered was actually the cute little sister on Redd Foxx’s final show, the pretty funny The Royal Family, which also co-starred Larenz Tate – being the reason why he left his recurring gig on Family Matters (The gods were good to you Larenz).  But, wait a minute; I just got a note that Glee is still on the air? What? Why?!?!?

TV Comeback of the Year:  Harold Perrineau in “Wedding Band”

What’s Wedding Band?  Well, it’s a pretty good show that airs on TBS on Saturday nights at 10pm and co-stars one of our favorite actors Harold Perrineau (and my one-time twin brother when he had locs), as Stevie, the new bass guitarist in the band of old friends who spend their spare time performing in a wedding band called “Mother of the Bride”.  Perrineau’s Stevie is a seasoned musician, with multiple gold records to prove it, who’s been a session musician with all the greats in the music industry for over 20 years but has never been seen on an album cover because he’s never been an “official member” of a band — until now. He feels more like a real rock star when he plays with these guys though he still regularly records with professionals.  An added bonus is that he’s not the asexual sidekick or the like to series star Brian Austin Green (Beverly Hills 90210).  Quite the opposite, Stevie is charming and is constantly ‘getting his’ to use a somewhat pejorative term. 

I had zero hope for this show but after watching three episodes, including the pilot, I have to say I’m impressed by how entertaining it is.  No, it’s not LOST, it’s not Downton Abbey, it’s just a good time show meant to sit back and enjoy. And as silly as it can get, there are better storylines than say, Private Practice, which thankfully goes off the air in early 2013 but not before having former regular Audra McDonald return for an episode.

Now technically Perrineau isn’t having a comeback career-wise, he’s a steady working actor currently co-starring in Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty and set to co-star with Arnold Schwarzenegger in Ten, but he has not been a TV series regular since the aforementioned LOST – so welcome back Harold!

Who We Lost

Some monumental and significant Black (and Latino & native American) TV actors and personalities passed away this year including:

Sherman Hemsley, forever known as George Jefferson from The Jeffersons and Deacon Frye from Amen (7/24)

Don Cornelius, creator of the hippest trip in America - Soul Train (2/1)

Al Freeman Jr.,  who played Malcolm X in Roots: The Next Generation opposite James Earl Jones and Lt. Ed Hall on One Life to Live - a role that won him a Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor In A Drama Series in 1979, in addition to one of the more memorable episodes of The Cosby Show’s first season (“Back to the Track, Jack” - 1985) among other amazing accomplishments

Russell Means, political activist and actor (Last of the Mohicans, Pocahantas), as well as multiple documentary subject (10/22)

Robert Hegyes of Welcome Back Cotter and Cagney & Lacey (1/26)

And not to ignore newsworthy people: Rodney King (6/17), whose beating by police and their subsequent non-conviction from such sparked the widely television aired LA Rebellion.

And though they’re not Black, big ups to producer/director Tony Scott (8/19) who was always good about casting a wide array of actors, including Black ones, in his movie and TV projects, the latter of which include Alimi Ballard and Sophina Brown in CBS’ Numb3rs AND Michael Boatman, Anika Noni Rose, Joe Morton, Michael Ealy, Renee Elise Goldsberry, Monica Raymund, and many  others in significant recurring roles on CBS, The Good Wife; three other TV greats passed away this week as well:  character actors Charles Durning (CBS’s Evening Shade, FX’s Rescue Me), Jack Klugman (ABC’s The Odd Couple and NBC’s Quincy, M.E.) and Gerry Anderson, co-creator of the British sci-fi series Thunderbirds.

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What did you think of Black television in 2012?  Comment below and let me know. 

Follow Shadow And Act Contributor Curtis John on Twitter (@MediaManWatchand check out his blog, brotherfromadiffrentworld.tumblr.com


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