Black-ish vs. Empire: The Race for Ratings

January 23, 2015  |  

Very seldom do we see shows  feature predominantly black ensembles on network television. What’s even more rare is that we see them and they are doing well. Since the fall, we have had Black-ish, the half-hour sitcom starring Anthony Anderson as he navigates through life with his upper-middle class family while hilariously letting America in on double-consciousness. On January 8, Fox debuted Empire: a drama revolving around a hip hop mogul and his family starring Terrance Howard and scene-stealing Taraji P. Henson (I’m still trying to rectify that this isn’t a sequel to Hustle and Flow).

Empire has been doing so well that by the end of week two it was already renewed for a second season. Both shows air on Wednesday night. Because Empire is an hour-long show that begins at nine, it has put a ding into the viewership of Black-ish. And that makes perfect sense. The target demographic as well as co-signers of everything cool (black people) watch both. However, there is more of an urgency to watch dramas such as Empire at it’s allotted time; especially due to live-tweeting during such a show so people are watching it together. Comedies don’t have that same “I must watch this right away” effect, so people will watch it on DVR later that night or online later. In fact, Black-ish is the only show during ABC’s Wednesday prime time lineup to see a drop in live viewership.

I’m pretty sure I am not the only person conflicted by this. I love to watch shows, tweet [jokes] through them, and see what friends think as well. That makes Empire the better draw (I watch both shows for their comedic value). I could switch to Black-ish at 9:30 and both shows get their ratings, but dammit I’ll be mad if I miss what’s going to happen next. It speaks to me at the tail end of the middle of the week when I can use such entertainment because I don’t want to be titillated.

The thing is I relate to Black-ish. I have seen and heard many of the things Anthony Anderson says on the show and laughed out loud because there’s truth in the show’s jest. Also, I am a father who lives in the suburbs so while I may not be where Dre is career and financially speaking; but I get him because his life resembles mine. Theoretically, it would make sense that I would watch Black-ish before Empire; but no.

And I personally hate this. Fox hasn’t really featured a predominantly black ensemble in 20 years when they had Martin, Living Single, and New York Undercover (and In Living Color before that) coming on Thursday nights. ABC has Thursday nights on lock with Scandal and How To Get Away With Murder. Both of these shows have black leads and others of color as members of the ensemble; but Kerry Washington and Viola Davis’ characters could have easily been white women and that wouldn’t change either shows at all…well maybe when Viola pulled her wig off that one time but that’s about it.

Empire and Black-ish are undeniably black. So in a live capacity I have to choose one or the other and if I don’t one will be quickly cancelled. If either one is cancelled at its infantile stages that will give networks more of a reason to say that shows pertaining to blacks don’t do very well. I am pretty sure Fox did this on purpose to drive down Black-ish’s rating. However, I would personally prefer it if Black-ish and The Goldbergs would switch time slots so that the former airs at 8:30.

So, the way it looks is as if there is a battle not just for ratings; but who gets the ‘oh so coveted’ black viewership at this time? Blacks in America have a lot of spending power. However, we only make up roughly 12 percent of the population – what matters the most is our influence. America’s biggest resource and export-tangible and intangible-is black culture/influence. What we say is cool and others follow along with. How many commercials have music in which the rhythm is hip hop-esque? A lot. At the end of the day this is what really matters because the networks make their money off of advertising dollars. The almighty dollar rules and it is playing against our heart strings. We often hope to see a little more of ourselves on television in a manner that isn’t us making a mockery of ourselves. This is ultimately the first time in 20 years we have had options and it all boils down to free enterprise and one company trying to outdo the other for a particular market…chapter two in an economics textbook.

Judge me if you want to; but I know I’m not the only one who does this. As a parent, what’s on TV definitely dictates my child’s bedtime. My daughter is three and my nephew is eight. They both like Black-ish. They find it funny and kind of laugh along whenever I do and I am okay with this because this is how you train your kids to be funny (a severely underrated quality yet it influences almost everything). So they get to stay up and watch that. When they see dramatic shows like Scandal or Empire on and they just want to talk through it and that makes it difficult to enjoy the show. On those nights they’re all ready for and in the bed by nine so that I can watch peacefully…well as peacefully as possible because someone is going to get out of bed and start asking questions.

So what is there to do? It’s hard to say. Wednesday is ABC’s comedy night and Black-ish follows Modern Family; which makes perfect sense from a retention rate perspective. However, it’s going to slowly die going up against Empire. It could get moved to the 8:30 slot on Wednesday and do well. In the spring Fox, has American Idol at that time and for the most part the audience that watches either show could care less about it. But then again, that’s probably the reason why Fox has Empire airing at that time…black influence to retain viewers after their show with the huge ratings to bring in more advertising dollars.


What are your thoughts – have you chosen which to watch live?

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