The folks over at AfterElton.com are doing a really fun rundown of their favorite television characters of all time (no Kanye).
So I figured, why not make my own list? So I did.
Check it out after the jump.
If you read this blog, you know that I’m quite hard on BET’s shows, The Game and Reed Between The Lines, for not being as good as they should be. But it’s worth stating that it’s terrific to finally be in a position to even critique original programming on the channel. It took forever for BET to start developing projects, so even if their first few shots out the gate aren’t perfect it’s still important that the network is even trying.
Which brings me to BET’s announcement of next year’s television lineup. A new Wayans family production doesn’t excite me, but this does:
Also being fast tracked is “Gun Hill,” which would be BET’s first scripted drama. The series, which stars Larenz Tate and is being developed by Reggie Bythewood (“New York Undercover,” “Get on the Bus”), gives what producers call “a twisted spin to the biblical Cain and Abel story”: The lives of identical twins on opposite sides of the law — one is a cop and the other is a con — become intertwined one night when the cop is killed and the con assumes his identity.
I think the challenge for Bythewood, Tate and BET is to resist the urge to make the show simple. We are in an era where audiences are really responding to nuance and antihero protagonists. It would be great to have a show like that that is about black people.
And with an actor like Tate, who can go from sociopathic O-Dog to charming Darius to the dynamic Frankie Lymon with impressive ease, there is no reason they can’t actually create a multifaceted character to rival Tony Soprano or Don Draper. Because if done right, Gun Hill could have the potential to do for BET what Mad Men did for AMC and The Shield did for FX. To do that, the producers have to eschew the simplistic positive/negative binary and go for broke.
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.
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.