Lately, I’ve been watching episodes of the Cosby Show in the mornings. As I eat my second breakfast, I watch this beautiful black, upper class family from the 80’s deal with life. As a kid I’d watch the show and wish I had a family like that, and it’s kind of sad to say I still think that when I watch it. They were the ideal family.
The Cosby Show was something brand new on television at the time. A show about a black family where the father was a doctor, the mother a lawyer, they live in a nice house with well behaved kids. It was a number one show and paved the way for other black sitcoms like Fresh Prince and Family Matters. The sad thing is that today in 2010, the black sitcom is dead.
Times are tough for black actors right now. It seems like Tyler Perry is the only one who’s hiring. Television shows on major networks are lacking in diversity and shows on cable TV that feature black people are mostly cheesy reality shows. The only black character on a major network with a show is Cleveland, on The Cleveland Show. And that’s a cartoon. Tyler Perry does have two sitcoms that air on TBS, but I’ve never watched them. It’s so sad, because kids today don’t have the kind of shows I did, that show black families and people in a positive, beautiful way.
Growing up, I could pick and choose which black sitcoms I wanted to watch. When I was young, it was the Cosby Show, Sister, Sister, Moesha, Family Matters, the Steve Harvey Show, The Parent Hood, Fresh Prince, the list goes on. The 90’s were great for TV. In my teens it was The Parkers, One on One, and My Wife and Kids. These shows highlighted different types of families, single moms or single dads, teens dealing with issues in school or with friends and a lot of laughs. I learned so much from watching these shows. Black sitcoms raised me.
But the point of this blog is not to talk about my awkward teen years or the lack of diversity in television today. It’s to talk about A Different World. Watching the Cosby Show everyday made me think about its spin off, which was about students attending the fictional historically black college Hillman somewhere in the South. The first season starred Lisa Bonet as Denise (she’s so super cool), but she left in the second season and the show switched focus. It became about one of the most beautiful TV couples, Whitley Gilbert and Dwayne Wayne. Watching the show when I was a teenager, I loved it. I loved that they were in college and living that college life, going to step shows, living in dorms, going on road trips. And at the same time it dealt with a lot of social issues. It was a show that focused on smart black kids in college. There is nothing like that on TV right now.
Today I watched the two part episode where Whitley and Dwayne got married. It hit me so hard because they remind me so much of my characters in my book. Maybe in some sub conscious way I molded them (and kind of the whole world of my book) after the show, but it was like I was watching my characters speak to each other. Sort of. Just how they broke up and got back together, how they were each others first true love, how they come from different classes, how they love each other unconditionally. That’s my characters. That’s my book.
A Different World was a great show. I can’t really see something like that coming on TV now. Reality shows are in, hour long dramas like CSI are in, the only real conventional sitcom that’s successful right now is Two and a Half Men. Maybe the sitcom in itself is dead.
I feel lucky that I had the shows I did growing up. They really did mean a lot to me. I was lucky that I got to see people who looked like me portrayed in a positive light. Not on some reality show.