This year’s TV season is being touted as the most diverse in years. But before this year, there were still black TV writers toiling behind the scenes on some of America’s most popular shows as they worked their way up to getting their own shows, launching their own projects or forming their own production companies.
A 2011 article on The Root pointed to the “Shonda Rhimes Effect,” a nod to the phenomenal success of the creator of Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal, as a contributing factor in TV’s increased diversity—on-screen and in the writers’ room. Here are some of the top black TV-show writers working today.
Barris is the creator of ABC’s new fall comedy Black-ish, starring Anthony Anderson, Tracee Ellis Ross and Laurence Fishburne. The series, which premiered on Sept. 24, follows the Johnsons, an upper-middle-class family dealing with success, ’burb life and cultural identity. Barris’ first writing gig was in 1997 when he was a writer for The Keenan Ivory Wayans Show. He’s also written for The Game, Are We There Yet?, Girlfriends and Soul Food.
Black-ish, The Minority Report With Larry Wilmore
Wilmore has been a busy man in 2014. In addition to being the executive producer of Black-ish, he was recently named as Stephen Colbert’s replacement in the time slot after The Daily Show, where Wilmore served as the “senior black correspondent.” The Minority Report With Larry Wilmore is slated to premiere in January 2015. Wilmore has had a steady stream of sitcom work in the past, too: He was the creator of The Bernie Mac Show and has written for Sister, Sister and The Jamie Foxx Show.
Ridley, the Academy Award-winning screenwriter for best picture winner 12 Year a Slave, is bringing his talents back to the small screen with a new series for ABC called American Crime. The drama tells the story of a racially charged murder case and trial presented through the eyes of various characters. The show will air in 2015. Ridley worked in television before heading to the big screen, having served as head writer for The Wanda Sykes Show and writer for TV shows Barbershop and Third Watch.
Denitria “Dee” Harris-Lawrence
Harris-Lawrence is a writer for Chicago P.D., but she mainly serves as the series’ executive producer. She’s had steady writing and producing work over the last decade and tends to write for cop dramas, including Detroit 1-8-7, 10-8: Officers on Duty and one of our favorite shows, New York Undercover.
Chicago P.D., Single Ladies
Closson is a writer and producer on NBC’s Chicago P.D., which began its second season on Sept. 24. Closson also wrote for Single Ladies’ third season. Although VH1 canceled the show earlier this year, Centric has picked up the series for its fourth season. Closson has also written for MTV’s controversial teen show Skins. Like many writers on this list, Closson got her start writing for ’90s sitcoms, including For Your Love.
Courtney Kemp Agboh
The Root 100 honoree Agboh’s star is rising—and it’s rising fast. She’s the creator, as well as an executive producer and writer, of the Starz drama Power, which debuted in June and was one of the buzziest shows of the summer, especially on social media. The series stars Omari Hardwick as Ghost, a hard-core New York drug distributor who struggles to balance his moneymaking biz with his desire to go legit. Agboh has also written for The Good Wife and The Bernie Mac Show.
McGruder’s new Adult Swim show has earned a bit of buzz. Variety calls it “disarmingly and pretty consistently funny.” Of course, McGruder is best-known for his comic strip-turned-animated TV series, The Boondocks. The show’s original run ended in 2010, but it was brought back to the small screen in early 2014. McGruder was not involved in the series’ revival.
Saturday Night Live
Saturday Night Live
Jones joined SNL’s writing staff with LaKendra Tookes in 2014. She sparked some controversy for her slave jokes when she appeared on “Weekend Update.” A comedic actress, Jones has also written for comedy series including Def Comedy Jam and 1st Amendment Stand Up.
Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, How to Get Away With Murder
Rhimes’ success has helped turn her into one of the most powerful showrunners on TV. Period. The Root 100 honoree was able to get ABC to green-light the new show How to Get Away With Murder, starring Viola Davis. Rhimes’ brand is so strong, everyone assumed she created the show—she’s actually the executive producer. ABC is so confident about three of its shows produced by ShondaLand that the network has handed Thursday nights over to her to go up against the mighty NFL. More things for Roger Goodell to worry about.
Clack is an executive producer and writer for Shonda Rhimes’ long-running series Grey’s Anatomy. Clack is also a doctor who completed her residency in emergency medicine at Emory University. Ever think Grey’s gets too real in the ER? We know whom to thank for that.
McGhee followed Shonda Rhimes from the writing staff of Private Practice to her hit show Scandal. Earlier this year he earned writing credits for the episode in which we finally meet Fitz and Mellie’s children. In 2010 McGhee was one of eight selected for Disney/ABC TV’s Writing Program.
Mohamed followed Shonda Rhimes to the Scandal writing team in 2012 after spending three years on the production staff of Grey’s Anatomy. In 2012 Mohamed was selected to participate in Disney/ABC TV’s writing program.
This year Morgan wrote an episode for AMC’s series Turn: Washington’s Spies, a period drama about America’s first spy ring. Last February she was one of nine winners of the WGAW Feature Access Project, which promotes diversity for screenwriters in Hollywood. In 2012 Morgan was a staff writer on the Showtime series Shameless. She has also written for Parenthood.
Parks and Recreation
Vogue magazine calls Muharrar Parks and Recreation’s “star writer.” “‘Aisha has this real sense of justice. She’s a peaceful warrior. Her scripts on Parks and Rec are always funny and touching and whipsmart, just like her,’” Amy Poehler tells Vogue. Muharrar joined the staff in 2012 and has since moved up the ranks to co-executive producer.
Green wrote three episodes for the Syfy thriller Helix earlier this year. In August, WGN America and Sony TV announced that they were developing a Civil War-era drama called Underground and called on Green to co-executive-produce the show. Underground will tell the stories of slaves who were trying to escape to freedom, and the anti-abolitionists who tried to stop them. Green was a staff writer on FX’s Sons of Anarchy from 2009 to 2011.
Janine Sherman Barrois
Barrois has been a writer on CBS’ Criminal Minds since 2010, and shortly after she joined the team, she was bumped up to executive producer. In August ABC backed a new project from Barrois called Cold Blood, a medical drama based in a New York hospital. Barrois previously wrote for ER, Third Watch and The Jamie Foxx Show.
If Loving You Is Wrong, For Better or Worse, The Haves and the Have Nots
Perry is creator, director, executive producer, writer and co-star of nearly everything he’s ever put his name on. It’s hard to even keep up with this entertainment mogul and his latest projects. If Loving You Is Wrong premiered on Sept. 9 and is OWN’s most watched series premiere ever. Previously aired on TBS, For Better or Worse now appears on OWN. And The Haves and the Have Nots will make its third-season premiere in January 2015.
The Queen Latifah Show
Thede was the head writer of Queen Latifah’s daily talk show last season. A comedic actress and writer, Thede has probably written your favorite joke on the BET Awards within the last several years; she’s written for the special every year since 2007. She also wrote for Real Husbands of Hollywood last year.
Jacque Edmonds Cofer
Let’s Stay Together
Currently, Cofer is a writer and executive producer for BET’s Let’s Stay Together. She was also executive producer and writer for the Cosby-esque sitcom Reed Between the Lines with Malcolm-Jamal Warner and Tracee Ellis Ross. A veteran writer, Cofer has penned some of your favorite black sitcoms, including Moesha, Living Single and Martin.
Mara Brock Akil
Being Mary Jane
Akil keeps the hits coming for BET. Being Mary Jane’s first-season finale drew in 5.8 million viewers. Like Shonda Rhimes, Akil mostly works as creator or executive producer on her series, but she still penned three episodes in the show’s first season. Akil has multiple shows that air on BET, including The Game and reruns of Girlfriends.
Two and a Half Men, Psych
In 2014 Patterson was doing double writing duty. He was penning scripts for CBS’ Two and a Half Men and USA Networks’ Psych. Patterson has been writing for sitcoms for years, including The Bernie Mac Show and Frasier.
Penny is a writer for cop comedy Brooklyn Nine-Nine and has previously written for Happy Endings, Scrubs and Girlfriends. Last year Fuse aired a few episodes of Penny’s The Hustle, a dramedy about four friends who want to make it to the top in the hip-hop music biz.
Real Husbands of Hollywood
Spencer is also a BET favorite. He’s written for the network’s faux-reality series Real Husbands of Hollywood, its BET Awards specials and the Soul Train Awards. You might best remember Spencer for his short-lived, late-night TV show Vibe from the late ’90s.