The Akils have been working together to produce quality television shows through their production company, Akil Productions, and recognize the precarious position of black shows on mainstream networks. That is why, they say, they are happy to be on BET. “The fans had an appetite for the show, and I think BET recognized how popular it was in reruns on the network, and appreciated how we told stories and balanced the shows with the different types of African Americans. They called and wanted us. It feels good to be wanted,” Salim Akil tells The Root.
Brock-Akil says that she is convinced BET will properly market the show. “Networks make the mistake of believing that audiences will find shows. People are busy. They’re not sitting around waiting on television. They need reminders about when a show is on, just like they need reminders about other things.”
BET, a network that has been largely criticized for its lack of original programming, recently began branching out into scripted television shows such as Let’s Stay Together, a series founded by Queen Latifah. Now it’s stepping up its game by making The Game its most recent scripted television show. The Game‘s proven audience was clearly a factor, but the show’s ability to tell stories that are truthful and “in your face,” without being exploitive, is also key to the success of the show. “We respect black audiences and black characters,” Akil says. “We show the spectrum of black life without putting it down. We don’t judge or make fun of the characters on the show. We talk about things that are on the viewers’ minds, without talking down to them.”
BET’s decision to bring The Game back to broadcast television is not unusual, according to Thompson. “Original programming is becoming the industry standard for cable operators. Look at what Mad Men has done for AMC, Hot in Cleveland for TV Land, South Park for Comedy Central or Trading Spaces for TLC,” he says. “It only takes one or two hits to make the show and network matter.”
That is what black audiences want: shows that matter. The combination of good storytelling, respect for African-American audiences and characters, and a huge following have brought back a show that satisfied millions of African-American viewers, which puts some pressure on the Akils. Brock-Akil adds, “The fans are a blessing. We are appreciative of what we had, but grateful for the opportunity to prove everyone wrong about the ability of this show to succeed.”
The Akils know something about success. Married for 11 years, they are expanding the company by delving into reality television, an hourlong show and another half-hour offering. “We’re going to take a swing at some new programming, and hopefully something will hit,” says Brock-Akil.
Nsenga K. Burton is editor-at-large and a regular contributor to The Root. She recently completed the film Four Acts, a documentary on the 2007 public servants’ strike in South Africa.