Nine months since the launch of Bounce TV, and the self-proclaimed "first African-American broadcast network," co-founded by Martin Luther King III and civil rights icon Andrew Young, has birthed its first original programming.
Bounce TV has been live across the country since September 2011, airing a mix of feature films, documentaries, sports, syndicated series and inspirational faith-based programs. Two Monday night series filmed exclusively for the network debut tonight: Family Time (9 p.m. EDT), a sitcom starring and produced by Omar Gooding (Baby Boy), and Uptown Comic (9:30 p.m. EDT), a half-hour standup comedy show hosted by Joe Torry (Poetic Justice).
Family Time is the brainchild of Bentley Kyle Evans, veteran television actor and co-creator of The Jamie Foxx Show. While the premise — a construction worker moves his family from the hood to the suburbs after winning half-a-million dollars in the lottery — isn't necessarily one to which many people can directly relate, the ensuing financial and social stresses certainly are, as is the combative yet undeniably loving relationship among the family.
"I loved the script when I read it; I laughed out loud," Gooding explains. "And talk about working fast: We shot six episodes in five days."
The show presents positive (but not sanitized) portrayals in the face of the potentially problematic depictions of African Americans on reality television. "So many reality shows are about fighting and getting drunk," Gooding says. "But we're touching on [family] value issues and current issues, like handling money and raising kids who have access to the Internet."
While Bounce has an advantage of inclusiveness in being a free terrestrial network, airing on channels that don't require a cable subscription, the move puts it squarely in the path to become a bigger alternative to pay networks such as TVOne, Centric and BET.
"As fast as this is growing, I can see it eclipsing BET and all of them in a couple years' time," Gooding predicts. "But it's not about a rivalry or anything. It's just about more programming geared toward African Americans, and I'm really honored that they chose our series to be the first original scripted series."
Uptown Comic features a mix of established and up-and-coming comedians. The show finds Torry in a familiar hosting role; he fronted the popular and arguably standard-setting Def Comedy Jam series in 1995. But in the many years that have passed since that gig, Torry notes how the standup art continues to evolve and how this new show will help that process.
"When I started, I wanted to hone my act to perform on Johnny Carson," he recalls. "And then came Def Comedy Jam and it gave [me] a pass to go straight to the big time. And now, I think it comes full circle to see if you can bring the Johnny Carson act back to the main stage. You don't have to have cable to watch this; it's just going to come on a basic channel, so this is a great avenue and it's going to start a whole new wave of comedians and new careers. This show will, shall I say, sharpen your skills as a comedian-writer to be able to perform."
While Bounce TV has stated that its target audience is African-American viewers who are 25 to 54, Torry is quick to add that what he's been developing can also interest mainstream audiences. "Whether it be Hispanic, European or Asian or anything other than just [who would typically watch] a black network," he says, "We speak to that whole demographic of people."