Magazine article Newsweek

Drama Queens: In Its Record Third Year, 'Soul Food' Finds Its Voice-And Its Audience

Magazine article Newsweek

Drama Queens: In Its Record Third Year, 'Soul Food' Finds Its Voice-And Its Audience

Article excerpt

Byline: Allison Samuels

Like a good piece of sweet-potato pie, "Soul Food" has finally found the right seasoning. "Soul Food" is the first African-American TV drama to make it to its third season, and its very survival provides a lesson in the ways of television. When "Soul Food" debuted, it was a solid if conventional family drama with so-so ratings--just the kind of program the networks would have canceled. But "Soul Food" appears on Showtime, and cable programmers are notably more willing to nurture a show until it finds itself--and the audience finds it. What's more, Showtime has built its schedule on programming that caters to niche groups: "Queer As Folk" is its No. 1 show, and the Latino-oriented "Resurrection Blvd." is also a strong performer. "Soul Food" serves an audience that's been notoriously ignored by the networks but is central to Showtime's mission. "We respect that we have so many different cultures tuning in to our networks, and we have to cater to them," says Jerry Offsay, president of programming for Showtime. "We thought the show was a solid, family experience and we decided that our support would be there because we knew it would find its way."

It has. During its second season, the female audience jumped by more than 60 percent and white viewers increased an additional 20 percent. What makes "Soul Food" so different is that it focuses on traditional family issues without sanding down the details of regular black life. The producers cast African-Americans of all hues and then dig deep into a family full of love, disagreements and its fair amount of drama. …

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