My 2016 Primetime Emmy Wishlist

Photo Credit: Television Academy

Photo Credit: Television Academy

There is so much good TV that nearly any average TV viewer could probably do an Emmy wishlist and put together something that another average TV viewer couldn’t really fault. This is a good thing.

But the glut of goodness does mean that the structural biases and barriers of the Emmys are more present than perhaps they’ve ever been simply because the single biggest factor in getting an Emmy nomination is having gotten one before. The sameness of these awards are partly a function of the way TV is made (shows run for years), but my suspicion is that this (admittedly reasonable) factor is mostly a crutch for Emmy voters who are frequently behind the 8-ball on TV innovation and biased against whole swaths of shows (sci-fi, soap, multi-cam comedy, most anything specifically produced for people of color/or on a POC network).

So why not put together my own dream list? And that’s what this is. This is simply a list of who I would love to see get nominations.  I have no illusions that the Emmys would ever be this awesome and diverse in its tastes.

I kept each category to 6 nominees as is pretty typical of the Emmys. Let me know what you think in the comments.

One note – I didn’t pick episodes for writing or directing because I don’t really have access to all of the episodes and for categories like that I feel like I would have had to rewatch everything to make honest, informed choices. But I think we can all probably agree that the writing and (especially) the directing on American Crime was remarkable.

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I Spent the Week at Alyssa Rosenberg’s Crib on ThinkProgress

My friend, Alyssa Rosenberg, asked me to guest post on her blog on ThinkProgress this week.  I accepted and it was a really effin good time.  Her commenters are awesome and spending time at her crib really forced me to step my game up. I think I did ok.  

What do y'all think?

More Black TV, Please


This is all kinds of good. More black tv is a good thing. More choices for black television viewers is a good thing.  

Since MLK III and Andrew Young are behind Bounce, the programming is likely to be "positive," but I hope it's not bourgeous Talented Tenth uplift the race cartoonish positive or, worse, class mobility as deracination positive.  

While we need more "positive" images of black people, what we really need is more human portraits of black people. Most of the black folks on The Wire were awful human beings, but they were human beings.  

We can't be afraid to show full portraits of black people, warts and all. 

Aymar Jean Christian puts it better than I can:

To date, BET, TV One and Centric have yet to produce any of the kinds of buzzy shows other cable nets have been making: from the scripted fare of AMC and FX to the crazy reality shows of A&E and E!.

What I think we need is a black TV network willing to assert that black programming can be as provocative, smart and engaging as the many experimental shows out there.

How about adapting the UK show The Misfits with a mostly black cast? Or creating an historical narrative along the lines of Mad Men or Downtown Abbey — perhaps of the Harlem Renaissance? What about those aspects of the black community traditionally left hidden on TV: gay/SGL/trans people, single mothers, and the like? How about a reality show like Sundance’s Brick City, exploring in complex detail the racial and day-to-day politics of managing a city?

It’s rather startling how some of the best “black” programming over the past decade or so has not appeared on black networks — The Wire chief among them, but also The BoondocksOz — and the primary culprit is BET, which has the cash to push boundaries but has traditionally played it safe.

Will these new networks push black TV to beyond the status quo? So far the odds are against them, but the first one to surprise us (and critics) will reap huge rewards.

There have got to be visionary black writers and producers looking to redefine what it means to make a black television show. We already had Mara Brock Akil. She can't be the only one.

Can a Brotha Get Some Extras?

Have y’all noticed that for black television shows, the production companies skimp on the extras?




It seems to me that with shows like The Cosby Show, A Different World, and Soul Food, which are watershed productions for African-Americans in terms of casting, writing, directing and story, that the production companies might want to let the creative minds behind the shows talk about how they were produced.

Even shows that didn’t last very long like Arrested Development give you tons of extras.

But not for black shows.

I noticed this when I was watching Girlfriends on DVD, which is probably one of the best black shows ever produced and has more extras about the show’s conception and production than any other black show. On the Season 3 set, there is a special that talks about shooting the two-part finale, which was Toni’s wedding to Todd.

I was struck by how much Mara Brock Akil had really thought out the direction of that season of Girlfriends. How detailed her vision of each of the girls is.  How the show speaks to her thoughts and feelings as a black woman.  How she truly wanted to push the boundaries of comedy by embracing more and more dramatic elements.

After watching this piece, I became aware that Girlfriends is the only black show on DVD that gives its producers a platform on the DVD to talk about the creative process in a way we see all up and through white productions.  It was interesting to hear about the original vision of the show (Joan was originally dark-skinned and Lynn was supposed to just be a black girl who could pass, not biracial) and how it was developed.

It only makes watching the show that much richer.

We just don’t get this kind of treatment en masse and it’s kind of annoying. I suspect that Girlfriends gets better treatment because it’s a relatively newer show and because Kelsey Grammar is fine with the expense.

But for shows like The Cosby Show, and A Different World, what you get are pre-packaged retrospectives that ran on TV years ago. These are more about the shows’ impact on America – which is very important — but don’t talk in any real detail about production.  There are no behind the scenes, no outtakes, no commentaries. Almost nothing.

Soul Food fairs worse.  All four seasons have been released and there is not a single extra to be found.  As the longest running black drama ever on television, it deserved more than just the episodes.

It would just be nice to know how Soul Food became a television show. I’d kill to see screen tests for Rockmond and Nicole Ari Parker, who both dominated the show with fine dramatic acting every episode.  I’d like outtakes. I’d like to know how shows were scripted.  Where was the show shot?  How the hell did Darrin Hensen get cast as Lem?

I think it’d be great to listen to Tempest and Keshia reflect on all them Rudy/Vanessa fights.  Or Malcolm reminiscing about shooting the ear piercing episode.  Can Lisa talk about her wardrobe? Outtakes.  Something.

How do Marisa and Lisa feel about that first season of A Different World?  Where is Charnele Brown (Kim) and Ajai Sanders (Gina)?

How did they cast Living Single?

These are the kinds of things that might entice black folks (and others) to plop down the dolo for black television on DVD.  It’s also just interesting.

Most black shows were tentpole productions that defined a generation and built networks.  It’d be interesting to hear how they got made.

For seminal shows like The Cosby Show and A Different World, we don’t even get the broadcast versions, but versions trimmed for syndication.

I’d be willing to bet that the production companies would say that they can’t justify the expense because they can’t guarantee that black folks will plop down the $40 for a season of Living Single or Martin.  And I don’t think they’d be wrong.  It just seems shortsighted.

So as usual, it becomes a vicious cyle.  Companies sell inferior product.  Black folks don’t buy it.  Companies continue to sell inferior product because black folks don’t buy enough to justify production expense.

It sucks.