Quick, tell me who was the guest on last night’s episode of TJ Holmes’ comedy news program, “Don’t Sleep”?
Don’t feel bad if you don’t know because I don’t either. I don’t have television, let alone cable, so that’s my excuse. And since nobody has been giving me the minute by minute rundown of the show via Facebook like they do an episode of “Scandal,” I assume that most people haven’t been checking for it either.
A little over a month old, “Don’t Sleep,” which from its description reads like a black version of “The Daily Show,” has been struggling in the viewership department. Although its premiere episode had people excited for BET’s newest addition into the more newsy side of black entertainment, the show has failed to connect with viewers, and its ratings have dropped significantly from a high of 1 million views to as low as 203,000 views. As a result, “Don’t Sleep” will now be reduced down to an hour once a week, instead of its current nightly schedule.
Debra Lee, chief executive officer for BET, reportedly told The Grio, “To be honest, the ratings haven’t been great in the past two weeks. Our audience always says they want this kind of programming, but they don’t show up.” This is certainly not a good sign for Holmes, who left his cushy job at CNN to make a name for himself at BET.
Maybe Lee does have a point. It certainly seems that despite black folks’ public declaration and demands that BET show more positive and informative programming, we are just not tuning in and bringing the numbers needed to make such programming sustainable. The only conclusion I can deduct is that we just love the ratchetness. Just admit it: there is something entertaining and appealing about watching grown women in leopard-print platform heels with faces beat to Maybelline heaven, arguing and occasionally fist fighting over, “You don’t know me,” or the rebuttal of, “Naw, don’t get it twisted, you don’t know me!” It’s melodramatic, full of fantasy (i.e. money, big houses, Louboutins, marital statuses, etc…), ridiculously immoral and a little unprincipled. For the most part, good reality television shows are a lot like daytime soap operas. And everybody knows daytime soap operas are the definition of ratchetness, just without all the reality.
Likewise, despite the ire that most television shows featuring black characters have received from the community for their stereotypical portrayals of us, there is no denying that many of “us” still tune in regularly every week for the foolish and the salacious on television. This is why shows like “Scandal,” which is basically a scripted show about ratchetness going down in Washington, and most reality television shows, which are straight up and down ratchetness, leads the pack in ratings in black households. According to the numbers at Target Market News, VH1 remains the most watched cable network in black households, thanks to shows like “T.I. & Tiny: The Family Hustle,” “Chrissy & Mr. Jones” and “Basketball Wives: LA.” All those shows are based around what some folks would describe as ratchet people (aside from T.I. and his lady…maybe). Coincidence?
This doesn’t seem like a good sign for a black news show that hails itself as a black version of “The Daily Show.” Not only does “Don’t Sleep,” which airs in the 11 p.m. EST slot, have fewer ratings than “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report,” but it is also trailing behind reruns of “Family Guy” and some show called “Duck Dynasty” (I just Googled it and all I got to say is what the hell kind of hillbilly nonsense are you watching America?). Even Andy Cohen’s “Watch What Happens: Live,” which is a talk show based around replaying everything that happened on an Andy Cohen-produced ratchet reality shows you just watched, received more viewers per show than Holmes’s show.
So does that mean that Holmes’ talk show is doomed? Not if they can reformat it to compete with all the ratchetness. As Tambay Obenson, of Shadow and Act recently wrote about “Don’t Sleep,” the show needs to be more edgier if it is going to compete with the likes of Bill Maher, Jon Stewart and Steve Colbert as well as reach its targeted demographic of 18 to 49 year olds:
“And I’m not even talking about tossing a few curse words in, every now and then. But given how rapidly it seemed to move along from one segment to the next, as well as the music used in transition, and at times in the background while Holmes spoke (one thing I suggest they don’t continue to do), it’s clear that the producers are going for something cool and hip; tackling serious issues that are of importance to the black community in the USA, but not being too earnest or severe with the delivery, which should keep its younger audience edutained – the key word.”
For the purpose of this post, I ended up catching a couple of episodes online. It’s not bad, but from what I’ve seen in certain elements of the show, particularly the parts where he is clearly trying to be the black version of “The Colbert Report” with the humor, it feels a bit contrived. Like, Holmes is trying way too hard to be cool, funny and hip – and in the process looks uncomfortable doing it all. For example, in one segment of the show, Holmes is speaking about the chair lynching story, when he decided to break out into this soliloquy over a finger-snapping, neo-soulish jazz beat. It took me a minute to realize that he was attempting spoken word. In this instance, the “edgy” vibe just doesn’t seem natural to him.
However, what does work for Holmes is being the straight and direct moderator and letting the drama happen around him, like in the segments of the show when he is leading panel discussions involving black intellectuals and celebrities. Investing more time and energy in smart yet edgier guests like Cynthia McKinney, Louis Farrakhan, Cornel West, Mos Def, etc., would definitely provide the color needed to balance out Holmes’ conservative style. It would add the little spice you need to quench some of that ratchet loving thirst.