Despite Undercovers Brouhaha, Race and Ratings Are Not Connected
by R. Asmerom
Where are the realistic black characters on TV?, asks the title of a Newsweek story by Allison Samuels in reference to the lack of diversity on the small screen and the recent cancellation of the NBC drama Undercovers. Samuels laments the loss of shows like The Cosby Show which depicted wholesome African-American life and implies that the end of Undercovers is somewhat connected to the fact that the show was led by two Black stars.
She wrote of the cancellation: “Some pointed to lack of star power, while a few fans complained of weak writing. Sure, all those things can cause any show’s early demise, but I’m not convinced those very fixable creative flaws explain the show’s short life span; ratings were low from the very first episode. I think it’s possible that a slightly more obvious, disturbing reason could be behind Undercovers’ failure, and it’s pretty familiar: race. ”
The fact of the matter is that over half the shows that premiere in a new season are axed due to low ratings. Undercovers would have survived if it got the ratings, period. Considering that African-Americans dominate the music charts and are selling albums to all audiences , it’s unlikely that those same consumers are refusing to watch a show because of the cast’s color. Secondly, there have been no quality shows like The Cosby Show because nobody has come up with a good enough pilot and no African-American celebrities or producers are bringing those big ideas to Hollywood. Will and Jada Pinkett Smith have produced several projects, including the sub-par sitcom All of Us, but what if Black Hollywood heavyweights like Jay-Z, Diddy, Denzel Washington or Jamie Foxx pitched an idea to the networks? They would certainly and easily get serious consideration for their pitches.
Networks want to make money and if Black Hollywood was serious about getting more shows on the air, they would work together to come up with quality projects and present them to the powers that be. Ratings is not a racial game, just a numbers one.