Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Fight For Fair Representation Of Blacks On TV

More than 60 years ago, a new comedy boasted an all-black cast populating a Harlem community with characters that included an attorney, a small businessman and a civic-club president.
"Amos 'n' Andy" was an instant hit in June 1951, when it made the leap to television after decades on radio.
But not everyone loved it. It was blasted by the NAACP for perpetuating black stereotypes with what, at best, were broad characterizations — particularly Kingfish Stevens, its underhanded mastermind, whose mission in life was avoiding work while cooking up ways to fleece Andy, his dim-witted chum.
For two years, "Amos 'n' Andy" remained a Thursday-night fixture on CBS. Its episodes then went into syndication for a successful run that didn't end until the mid-1960s, when CBS finally yielded to detractors, including the NAACP with its continued pressure, and yanked the reruns from the air.
Even today, the show remains suspect, vilified by some as a display of racism. But "Amos 'n' Andy" also stands as TV's first all-black series, indeed the only one until "Sanford and Son" was introduced by Norman Lear in 1972 during a renaissance of black-oriented sitcoms.


Since TV's infancy, the march toward fair representation for various races and ethnicities has been circuitous and rocky. Most minorities remain underrepresented, while African-Americans found their place in TV's version of the world routinely shortchanged or disparaged by producers, networks and sponsors.
Consider singer Nat King Cole, who in 1956 became the first prominent black performer to host a network variety series. Even with the impressively loyal support of NBC (and big-name guest stars, black and white, rallying to join him), Cole got little love from skittish advertisers. "The Nat 'King' Cole Show" lasted only a year.

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