How to Make a Success Black Film/TV Drama

African-American (AA) television and film has certainly taken a sharp turn within the past 20 years.  In the 1990s, the most successful and beloved AA television shows were Martin, Living Single, and a couple of other shows that, for the most part, illustrated working-class Blacks in situations of digress or stagnation.  Their relative success and languish professional careers were out-shined by their comedic shtick and a few passé laugh tracks.  Screenplays such as these easily thoroughly entertained all of those that watched.

Today, however, shows like these are scarce.  Successful AA television programming has taken a vastly different formula.  Here it is:  take an exceedingly impressive career and overflavor it with tons and tons of pedestrian drama.  Consider the following examples:

  • 1.   Kelsey Grammer is arguably the pioneer for successful AA television programming.  He is most widely known for his two-decade portrayal of psychiatrist Dr. Frasier Crane on the hit NBC sitcoms Cheers, Wings, and Frasier, where he went on to win 5 Emmy awards.  One of his first productions was Girlfriends, a comedy-drama sitcom that premiered on UPN (later, The CW).  By the fall of 2007, the show became the longest-running live-action sitcom on network television that was on air that year, as well as one of the highest-rated scripted shows on television among AA adults and women 18-34.  Grammer also produced a spin-off of the show called The Game, which was largely popular.  In 2011, The Game recorded a record-breaking 7.7 million viewers and has been elected for several awards as well.  Grammar certainly left his imprint in American TV for AA in the US.
  • 2.    Tyler Perry, an African-American actor, director, playwright, producer, and author, specializes in the AA Christian/Gospel genre.  Perry wrote and produced many stage plays during the 1990s and early 2000s.  He is best known for both performing in drag as the Madea character, a giant, overreactive, and thuggishly tough elderly Black woman.  Perry director, produced and/or acted in movies that include Diary of a Mad Black Woman, Why Did I Get Married?, Madea Goes to Jail, The Family That Preys, and TV shows, Meet the Browns and House of Payne.  In 2011, Forbes named him the highest paid man in entertainment, earning $130 million between May 2010 and 2011.
  • 3.    The most recent Black TV/film phenom is Shonda Rhimes.  Rhimes is an AA screenwriter, director, and producer who is best known as the creator, head writer, and executive producer of the medical drama television series Grey’s Anatomy and its spin-off Private Practice.  In May 2007, she was named one of Time magazine’s 100 people who help shape the world.  Rhimes also developed the ABC drama series Scandal, which debuted as a mid-season replacement in April 2012.  All of the aforementioned shows remain huge hits, especially among young Black women.

What do all of these films/TV programs have in common?  They all take a very successful and highly admired profession and radically sensational it.  Then, the main character experiences drama that is only outmatched by the gravity of their own successes.  In Scandal, for instance, Olivia Pope (Kerri Washington) plays a, overly aggressive and excitingly ingenious lawyer who formerly dedicated her life to protecting the public images of the nation’s elite, but is finding out that she cannot leave parts of her past behind without having a definite soft side.  In short, big time professional, small time problems.

Most AA films and TV shows today follow this formula, and it has worked flawlessly.  It seems that, with the similar simultaneous change in music culture, dramatic glamour seems to be at the forefront of TV and film attention.  The days of production teams like Miller-Boyett casting Carl Winslow (Reginald VelJohnson) for the role of a Chicago policeman (in the show Family Matters) has ended.  Even House of Payne and Meet the Browns follow the 90s formula as mentioned, and are largely a disappointment among younger viewers.  Glamour is key, and wrapping it with everyday drama that is relatable to viewers results in a product that guarantees TV ratings and future awards.

-Deshawn (@ShonJay714)

About Author

Deshawn

Journalist and aspiring writer. Contact me at da.advocates@gmail.com

3 Comments

    • Derek
      February 7, 2013

      Yeah i hear you on that AA films and tv show have definitely step there game! Long over due.

      Reply
    • Kandyce
      March 21, 2013

      Have you watched Awkward Black Girl?

      Reply
      • Erik
        March 22, 2013

        Two things: 1. Yes. It’s great. 2. Shout out to Kandyce for posting the 200th comment at ThaWell!!!

        Reply

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