The Huge Success of Black Shows May Change the Complexion of Prime Time TV
The latest string of prime time television hits are proving just how much power Black viewers have over what shows become small screen sensations.
From “How To Get Away With Murder” to “Black-ish” to “Empire,” the biggest prime time hits right now are all being pushed to top-notch ratings thanks to an overwhelming Black viewership.
What’s different about new shows like “Black-ish” and “Empire” is that they seem to be created and produced for the Black gaze. While most Black-themed television shows of the past, even arguably “The Cosby Show,” were created for as general an audience as possible—in other words, with the expectation that the majority of the viewership would be white—these new shows seem to be intended for the Black viewer. White viewers are certainly welcome, but they are not catered to by the creators.
That vigorous Black viewership has caused “Empire” to become the top-rated new series of the season in all key demographics.
According to Nielsen, more than 60 percent of the show’s audience is Black.
The show has Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson as the leads as it chronicles the messy journey of a family essentially being torn apart by greed.
Whether or not it’s the kind of show that gives the right perception of the Black community is up for debate, but either way the show certainly seems here to stay.
The series pulled off an extremely rare accomplishment over its three weeks of existence. It actually managed to climb in the ratings, and it did so rather quickly.
It suggests that the show is only picking up steam and likely to garner increasing viewership. Normally new shows go in the opposite direction, with viewers falling off after they take the show for a couple of spins.
Black viewers have also dominated the primetime lineup for Thursday, better known by some as Shonda Day because Shonda Rhimes-produced shows dominate the night.
The Shondaland hit series “Scandal” and “How to Get Away With Murder” also tote high percentages of Black viewership. Nobody needs to be reminded of how well those shows tend to do in the ratings or how they come close to breaking the Internet every week.
ABC’s “Scandal” is one of the top rated dramas on prime time with a 37 percent Black viewership.
“How to Get Away Murder” boasts a 32 percent Black viewership.
Another new series finding great success is ABC’s new comedy “Black-ish,” which recently got a special shout out from First Lady Michelle Obama.
“Black-ish” is finally bringing some diversity back to the comedy space with nearly 25 percent of its viewership being Black. It’s clear that the Black community is appreciative of the new show stepping up to fill the void.
The success of the shows is not just a nod to the stellar writing, casting, acting and directing behind the hit series, but it also suggests that the Black community’s enthusiastic support of a show is now enough to push it to the top of the ratings heap.
It’s a trend that could truly cause a major shift in new programming.
Industry experts don’t see how any executives could see this trend and not rush to put out a successful show of their own with a Black character at its lead.
“It’s hard to see how this fact doesn’t further push execs and producers to diversify their casts,” New York Magazine’s Joe Adalian said of the recent prime time successes.
The Huffington Post’s Mo Ryan says change is certainly on the way.
“I have longed for the day we’d see more non-white TV creators,” she tweeted. “Success leads to imitation in the TV game. I hope that’s the case here as well.”
All across the Black community fingers are crossed, as it appears television may be on the brink of a truly diverse era of quality prime time programming.