Friday, August 14, 2009

Half and Half: A Metaphor

OK, so my latest rerun obsession is a little-known sitcom called "Half & Half" (H&H) which originally aired on UPN a few years ago. I liked this show a lot when it was on, but only vaguely recall that it was a casualty of the UPN-WB merger. So, I find myself in a must-see TV mode similar to my past obsessions with "As Time Goes By" on PBS, "Dharma and Greg" on WE, "Charmed" on TNT, and "Homicide: Life on the Streets" on WGN (all in reruns).

Unfortunately there were only four seasons of H&H, and since I missed the entire fourth season due to my teaching schedule, I cheated and looked online to see how things ended. I have been pleasantly surprised by how much better the show has gotten near the end, so my question to the network: why cancel a solid show just as it hit its stride?

I could call my suspicion a name, but instead I will simply describe the symptoms: (1) a sitcom starring blacks characters; (2) gets scheduled on the one throwaway night of TV; (3) where it becomes highly rated among black viewers; (4) so the network moves it around on the programming schedule; (5) and ultimately it gets cancelled after a couple of seasons. The official word often is that the show was in decline; yet in the case of H&H, the show had been among the highest rated on the network before the merger.

So I will call it a name--Show Business as Usual (OK, that is a phrase :), but how else should I describe the phenomenon in which a country as diverse as America only has room in primetime for one person of color at a time--who at the moment appears to be President Obama? Sure that might be an exaggeration, but aside from all those people of color who have recurring roles on the nightly news as criminals, terrorists, lunatic dictators and ball-players, where is the rest of America?

Consider the fact that I have never seen an all-Asian sitcom, and that most of the Latinos on TV other than those tagged as 'aliens' by Lou Dobbs are on the Spanish-language TV networks. While individual black, Asian and Latino actors appear on scripted dramas like The Closer, Law & Order, Grey's Anatomy and CSI, there is no Asian or Latino equivalent to the Cosby Show (save for the Obamas, who are the 21st Century Huxtables).

Since I am only raising this issue after the CW just cancelled its last two 'black' sitcoms, I am behind the ball (especially since H&H was cancelled back in 2006). But why hasn't there been more diversity beyond the programming ghetto of the now-defunct UPN, the Atlanta Housewives and whichever spin-off of Flavor of Love is airing at the moment? Why can't mediocre shows starring people of color get a shot on the major networks? Clearly it makes no difference how long a show airs since most new shows get cancelled anyway. (I am purposely ignoring Tyler Perry for another rant later).

Are you hearing me President Obama? How are you going to solve this problem?