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.