It used to be folks in the African-American community would get excited just to see a black face on TV. While things have improved slightly, there still remains a dearth of positive black men on television. But now the airwaves have not one, but three African-American men on high-profile shows. Ex-106th & Park BET host Terrence J (Jenkins) has replaced Ryan Seacrest as co-host of E! News. Former NFL player Michael Strahan was selected as co-host of the popular syndicated morning show Live!, replacing Regis Philbin and sitting alongside Kelly Ripa. Lastly, there’s The Steve Harvey Show.
African Americans are the largest minority segment of the U.S. television-viewing population. So will these additions lure more black viewers to their respective networks?
Media critic Paul Porter, co-founder of Industry Ears, a nonprofit, non-partisan and independent organization focused on the impact media has on children and communities of color, isn’t optimistic.
“Black men as TV hosts is a strong positive,” he said. “Unfortunately many of these positive images don’t translate to the younger demographics where black male images consistently take a visual beating. Harvey’s, Terrence J’s and Strahan’s new positions are admirable. But unfortunately black America is tuned in for Love & Hip Hop.
“Since Harvey is the sole star it will take time to see if he can survive the test of time,” Porter added. “Strahan has been lucky enough to join a proven ratings winner. Terrence J on E! will be no ratings boost but a great career move for a young man who has talent,” said Porter.
In all likelihood, Harvey was hired because he already has a following, reaching millions of listeners to his radio program. But African Americans have strides to make. “There has only been one ‘Oprah,’” said Porter. “Blacks and daytime television are still a test market.”
Emmy- and NAACP Image Award-winning producer P. Frank Williams, who has produced shows for BET, TV One and other networks, predicts a rating increase. “I think Steve Harvey’s controversial and irreverent tone will be a ratings winner for NBC,” he said. “Same goes for Michael Strahan with Kelly Ripa. Strahan is charismatic and likable for people of all walks and races. Terrence Jenkins still has some proving to do since he has mainly honed his skills at BET Networks. Still, he has always appeared classy and smart. Plus, that nice job he did in Think Like a Man sure did boost his stock,” he speculated.
Usually a ratings jump is followed by increased advertising for networks and shows. Williams isn’t sure whether these new hosts will drive ad dollars, but money will ultimately do the talking. “Hopefully advertisers will see the light and realize how smart and attractive black men on TV means more money,” he said. “But we still live in a sometimes racially polarizing society where race matters more than talent to advertisers and, more importantly, to a lot of viewers in middle America,” says Williams.
Beyond ratings, Williams feels the additions will have a positive effect on the image of black men. “Anytime positive and smart black men represent on TV and film it’s a great thing for our little black boys and girls. We have plenty of chest pumping images of brothers grinding up against scantily clad women, so it’s refreshing and offers crucial balance. And for society in general, Steve Harvey, Michael Strahan and Terrence Jenkins are shining in more mainstream TV slots than we usually see,” he notes.
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