Where black folks seem to be in abundance on the small screen is on formulaic, guilty-pleasure-worthy reality shows on VH1, MTV, BET and any other network looking for quick ratings. And even in the reality niche, producers are doing whatever they can to liken a show with two parents and a couple of laughs to The Cosby Show. T.I.’s family on T.I. & Tiny: Family Hustle and Rev. Run’s clan on Run’s House have both been referred to as hip-hop, reality-show versions of the Huxtables.
In 1985, just one year after the show debuted, TV critics were already asking if the success of The Cosby Show could be duplicated. More than 25 years later, as we face the dearth of black-family sitcoms on network television and the lackluster ones mucking up cable television on TBS and BET, we’re still stuck.
Reed Between the Lines, BET’s first original scripted sitcom, couldn’t escape the Cosby comparisons, perhaps because the network was branding it as such, all but calling it Cosby 2.0. However, the show’s stars, Malcolm-Jamal Warner — a Cosby Show alum — and Tracee Ellis Ross were telling every magazine and newspaper that they wanted their show to stand on its own merits.
“We are in no way looking to re-create that show, but we did want to re-create that universality and positive family values that Cosby represented,” Warner told the L.A. Times in November. “Neither Tracee or I were interested in a ‘black show.’ We are telling family stories as opposed to black stories.”
On a black network, no less.
So what will the future of black television bring?
Last month, TV One unveiled its plans for its 2012-2013 programming lineup. Three new sitcoms were announced: Belles will focus on the life of a widowed patriarch with three daughters who’s running an upscale soul food restaurant (produced by Ed Weinberger, a co-creator of The Cosby Show). Church Folk follows a Los Angeles family who leaves their mega-church and moves down South. The Rickey Smiley Show will be based on the radio personality’s life. And he’s already making comparisons: “If you liked The Cosby Show and you liked Martin, it’s a mix between the two.