A Black sitcom is a sitcom in American culture that mainly features an African American cast. Although sitcoms with mostly Black characters have been present since the earliest days of network television, this genre became more prominent in the 1990s.
Early twentieth century change
In these days, Black actors were often cast in roles like comic clowns in a tradition tracing back to the genre of Black minstrelsy popular in the early 20th century.
Amos 'n Andy was the first television sitcom to portray Black people. It was widely popular. The 1951-53 television show replaced the white actors from the original radio show with Black actors. They represented Black individuals as businesspeople, judges, lawyers and policemen. Amos 'n Andy was canceled after airing over 70 episodes because the NAACP alleged that the show was stereotyping.
Then there were no all-Black sitcoms shown in the U.S. until the 1970s.
A series of popular Black sitcoms appeared in the 1970s. These include That's My Mama, Good Times, Sanford and Son, What's Happening!!, and The Jeffersons. These sitcoms have been criticized as fostering an image of segregation. They also helped to perpetuate a belief that Black and white cultures are so different that integration is unwanted and unworkable. In the 1980s, sitcoms such as The Cosby Show, A Different World, and Frank's Place, challenged stereotypical portrayals of Black people. They were nevertheless seen as "Black" (segregated) even with white actors.
After the 1980s, the major U.S. television networks appeared to lose interest in Black sitcoms. In the 1990s, newer networks such as Fox, The WB and UPN, anxious to establish themselves with a Black audience. The networks featured Black sitcoms such as Martin and Living Single. They drew high ratings among Black households. They were also profitable even with a limited white viewership.
Though there were some Black sitcoms successful with white audiences in the 1990s such as Family Matters, Moesha, Sister, Sister and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, the number of new programs continued to decline.
From 1997 to 2001, the number of Black sitcoms on U.S. television declined from 15 to 6 as white viewership declined. That decline has continued. Civil rights organizations have accused networks of denying minorities equal opportunity as well as a greater participation in general television programming.
Black sitcoms in the 2010s included The Game, A.N.T. Farm, Are We There Yet?, Tyler Perry's For Better Or Worse, Love That Girl!, Let's Stay Together and Reed Between the Lines. Reruns of popular 1990s Black sitcoms aired on BET, Bounce TV, TV Land, TV One, MTV2, and TBS.
On August 10, 2012, Tyler Perry's House of Payne became the longest-running sitcom with mostly an African-American cast in the history of American television in terms of number of episodes, beating The Jeffersons.
On September 24, 2014, over 11 million people watched the premiere episode of the ABC sitcom Black-ish. The sitcom was met with mostly positive reviews. It had 86% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The show includes many references to current racial issues in America. Black-ish's two spin-off shows, Mixed-ish and Grown-ish, also have African-American leads and deal with racial issues.
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