The New TV Season: WHAT'S NEW, WHAT'S BLACK, WHAT'S BACK
Hughes, Zondra, Ebony
AFTER last year's apparent "Whitewashing" of the big-four's (ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox) prime-time TV schedule--prompting the NAACP to threaten legal action and massive boycotts--the new fall lineup includes more Black representation. But observers say there's still a long way to go if networks really intend to highlight shows that reflect the real world.
This year's prime-time lineup is a case of the good, the bad, and the ugly. The good: There are several new and returning shows that have incorporated Black actors in significant roles. The bad: It's been a season of network shuffling and cancellations for Black actors and television shows thus far. The ugly: As of EBONY press time, there is not one Black-oriented show on the big-four's network prime-time schedules.
Despite that fact, there is more color in TV land this fall. Viewers can now catch a glimpse of some of Hollywood's most creative and diverse Black talents in action on all of the networks. ABC offers the critics' choice among new shows this season, Gideon's Crossing, starring Andre Braugher. Returning favorites include Who's Line Is It Anyway? with comedian Wayne Brady; NYPD Blue with James McDaniel and Henry Simmons; The Practice co-starring Steve Harris and LisaGay Hamilton; and Spin City, with Michael Boatman and Victoria Dillard.
CBS' new shows include The Fugitive, starring Mykelti Williamson; Welcome to New York, with Rocky Carroll, and The District, which boasts a strong minority cast. Returning shows include City of Angels starring Blair Underwood; Becker, with Hattie Winston; Diagnosis Murder, with Victoria Rowell; Judging Amy with Richard T. Jones, Touched By An Angel starring Della Reese, and Walker, Texas Ranger, with Clarence Gilyard.
NBC trumpets its new shows, DAG, with David Alan Grier in the lead role, and Cursed, with Wendell Pierce. Returning heavy-hitters include Law & Order, with Jesse L. Martin; ER, with Michael Michele and Eriq LaSalle; and Third Watch, with Michael Beach and Coby Bell.
Fox introduces two new offerings that feature Blacks in lead roles--its sci-fi thriller, Freakylinks, co-starring Karim Prince, and the dramatic Wall Street-ish sitcom, The Street, with Melissa DeSousa. The network also brings back its high-profile court-comedy, Ally McBeal, with Lisa Nicole Carson.
Cable television's new fall season offers a bonanza of treats for African-American viewers as well.
Showtime presents the highly anticipated Soul Food, produced by Tracey Edmonds, and the premiere episode was directed by Eriq LaSalle. Based on the 1997 blockbuster film, the series follows the struggles, rivalries and triumphs of a multigenerational African-American family in Chicago. Soul Food airs Wednesdays at 10:00 p.m.
The Romance Classics channel is the home of Debbie Allen's latest project, Cool Women. The show celebrates the achievements of extraordinary but unsung female heroes. The guests include Phylicia Rashad, Chaka Khan, James Ingram and Kate Capshaw among others.
Other cable highlights include HBO's Disappearing Acts (based on Terry McMillan's best-seller), starring Wesley Snipes and Sanaa Lathan. The Disney Channel again offers The Famous Jett Jackson, starring Usher and Lee Thompson Young; and Mark Curry fans can catch the comedian on Comedy Central, hosting the spontaneous new game show Don't Forget Your Toothbrush.
For jazz connoisseurs, PBS presents The General Motors Mark of Excellence Presentation of Jazz series beginning in January. The series boasts 75, interviews, 500 pieces of music and more than 2,000 archival film clips that follow the growth and development of the jazz genre.
This year's level of Black representation in the lineup has been greeted with optimism. But at the same time, the A-list of Black-oriented shows that got the ax is numbing. ABC nixed The Hughleys, but the show was picked up by UPN. And like a swift kick to the backside, Bill Cosby, the mastermind of high-quality, family programming and the one-man crossover sensation of the late '80s, received two pink slips from CBS--Cosby and Kids Say the Darndest Things were both cancelled. …