Race and Reality: Why Isn’t Black Reality TV Getting The Credit It Deserves?

April 5, 2014  |  

An article featured on The Hollywood Reporter questions why the success of rating kings like “Real Housewives of Atlanta” and “Love And Hip Hop” isn’t getting the credit that its counterparts may.

Bravo’s “Real Housewives of Atlanta” swelled to a network best of 4.6 million viewers in February. VH1 has shared similar ratings success with shows like “Basketball Wives” and “Love and Hip-Hop”.

“Race and Reality” sheds light on the fact although reality shows with predominantly black casts are now among the biggest hits on television, their audiences still remain predominantly black. In a trend labeled “The Tyler Perry Effect”, Starcom MediaVest Group executive vp Esther Franklin, who researches media and consumer habits of African-Americans and other minority groups says that although she doesn’t see this trend extending on broadcast, she expects it will continue to play out on cable:

“I think you’re seeing the viewership increase because of more opportunities for African-Americans to see themselves and their experiences reflected back to them.”

The “Tyler Perry Effect” refers to producer/writer/actor/director’s successful move into TV, first at TBS and now OWN, which reinforces the fact that there is a hungry African-American audience to be tapped outside of traditional black-targeted networks.

Although The National Association of Broadcasters projects African-American buying power rising 25 percent to $1.2 trillion between 2010 and 2015, there is still a disparity between advertising revenue for white viewers — black audiences still command smaller rates for networks. This may explain why networks remain careful not to outwardly own the trend, even if their slates speak for themselves.

CEO Mona Scott Young, who segued into TV with her hit, “Love and Hip Hop” notes how positive reality TV has been for the black community:

“It’s opened the doors, and people want to hear what I have on the slate.”

“I think there’s a real interest in African-American culture overall. It’s an underserved audience.”

But who exactly are these shows opening doors for? Although these shows are ratings kings, it’s mostly because the black community supports them, and their audiences still struggle to find diversity. Franklin cautions the success of these shows send a message that doesn’t represent the black community in it’s entirety with the fighting and sensationalism these shows are often know for:

“I think it’s a double-edged sword.  While the community is excited to have these series, I think it’s going to be a challenge to make sure they stay in touch with the needs of the community so that this generation of programming doesn’t become the new generalization.”

“For us, by us,” could have negative impacts if the images we feel reflect our community are only seen by us.  And even if those images do spark the interests of other audiences, are they what we want representing us?

Do you think networks aren’t outwardly owning the success of black reality TV because of its sensationalized content or is the success once again limited to our own community?

Read “Race and Reality” in its entirety at The Hollywood Reporter.


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