Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

The Ultimate Hard Sell: TV Dramas on Minorities

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

The Ultimate Hard Sell: TV Dramas on Minorities

Article excerpt

IT'S an old story - television's ultimate blacklisting or brownlisting.

Black sitcoms appear indelibly affixed to prime time, yet getting a family drama about blacks, or Asian-Americans or Latinos, on the air remains the hardest of hard sells.

Take the case of current prime-time ratings champ CBS. It has vowed to widen its audience beyond Norman Rockwell folk to include more of the nation's urban young, but in picking new series to open the 1994-95 season, the network omitted the worthy "Under One Roof," a weekly drama that was developed by its own production arm and may lack only one prerequisite for prime time.

Whiteness.

"We haven't passed on it," said CBS spokeswoman Susan Tick.

"I'm very pessimistic," said executive producer Thomas Carter ("Equal Justice").

Television's minstrels appear in multiple shades, and Fox's new fall lineup includes an action show, "M.A.N.T.I.S.," whose hero is black. When it comes to drama, however, TV seeks to seduce a rainbow of Americans with mostly a single color. Implicit here is that most programmers are ethnocentric, believing that non-whites will be riveted to whites in non-comedic situations, but not vice versa.

Black families have been nearly invisible in family drama, a situation "Under One Roof" could help remedy. Its protagonists are the Langstons, a middle-of-the-middle-class black family living in Seattle. No drugs, no violence, no gangs, not even an absentee father. No major dysfunction, just a highly appealing family.

Although not faultless, the pilot for "Under One Roof" ripples with more promise than 90 percent of what presently passes for drama in prime time. Its humor is unforced, its conflicts between generations are genuine, and its interesting, endearing characters relate in ways that likely would earn them the empathy of real-life families.

Plus, the cast is first-rate. Joe Morton is Ron Langston, a former career military man trying his hand at business. Vanessa Bell Calloway is his wife, Maggie, who resumed school to get a nursing degree. …

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