Is The Game Over for Black Television?

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CW.com
CW.com

Fans of The Game have been all over the Internet for the past several months, trying to save the canceled CW show with online petitions, Tweets, Facebook-status dedications and e-mail chains lamenting the show’s unceremonious demise. In an effort to save the show, the cast recorded a YouTube video, Change the Game Campaign, to get fans to blow up the message boards on CWTV.com.

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To capitalize on the uproar, BET last week aired an eight-hour The Game marathon. I took the bait and ended up having a two-hour Tweetfest with friends, debating our favorite episodes and characters.

But the save The Game campaign isn’t just about missing its snappy one-liners. The recent cancellation of The Game and the also popular Everybody Hates Chris has drastically reduced the number of black faces on network television. It’s as if network producers have decided that only Tyler Perry’s brand of pandering, lowest-common-denominator blackness is fit for prime time.

According to the New York Times, the CW canceled the show because it was looking to fill its fall 2009 lineup with shows to “text about,” “blog about,” “chat about” and even “tweet about.” It has added three shows—none of them built around black characters—including a throwback to the ‘90s with a new millennium version of Melrose Place.

Mara Brock Akil, The Game’s executive producer, sounded off on the cancellation on Rushmore Drive, “Somehow, because my characters were of color, my shows don’t count as much,” she said. “Successfully producing 236 episodes (172 episodes of Girlfriends plus 64 episodes of The Game) of television doesn’t have as much value. But that is the plight of being black in this business. That is the plight of being a woman in this business.”

Keith Josef Adkins, a blogger on The Root and a former writer on Akil’s Girlfriends, said that the cancellation shows a disrespect for Akil’s efforts to increase the profile of black narratives on TV.

The show didn’t even get a proper goodbye.

Think about it. Neither Moesha, Girlfriends nor The Game had series finales. In Moesha’s last episode, Myles was kidnapped, and there was an unidentified pregnancy test in Moesha’s bedroom. Girlfriends fans were waiting for Joan’s husband-to-be to return from Iraq, and now The Game fans are left to wonder about Jason and Kelly’s broken marriage, Tasha’s romance with Rick Fox and how Melanie is going to cope with the arrival of her husband’s baby by another woman.

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The network seems to think the Web will be its salvation. But the CW allowed the Internet to help kill The Game. Thanks to YouTube, there was no real obligation to stay home and watch the show in its kiss-of-death Friday timeslot, right after Everybody Hates Chris. Ratings predictably went down.

By comparison, TBS runs Perry’s House of Payne and Meet the Browns on Wednesday night, when people might actually be at home to watch. Sure, there are the requisite black cast members on reality shows. And shows such as Grey’s Anatomy have helped boost black story lines in dramas. But when it comes to scripted half-hour comedies, the situation for black writers, directors and actors is not the least bit funny.

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Fans haven’t given up. There’s a petition for TBS to pick it up The Game. And since BET has it in syndication, it’s getting shopped around there, too. But the network has already slotted several new reality shows in its programming lineup for the fall, all likely much cheaper to produce than a sitcom. Jon Caramanica of the Chicago Tribune suggests that maybe Showtime or HBO could pick up a sexed-up, more drama-filled version of the show. That’s a titillating idea.

But in many ways, having cable save the show would be letting the networks off the hook. Akil and other black comedy writers have important and funny stories to tell. It’s clear that audiences want to see them. Network producers should stop blacklisting black talent and give the people what they want.

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Erin Evans is a writer and copy editor for The Root.

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