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!