We are in 2010 – on the cusp of 2011. Can you tell me how many black UK television shows we have? It’s ok I’ll wait, I’m in no rush…… No? Any? None? Just what I thought.
How is it that in the new millennium we have no black TV shows or comedy shows on television? Does it make sense that up to 20 years ago we were being entertained with shows like Desmond’s, The Real McCoy, Blouse & Skirt and Brothers & Sisters (not to be confused with the recent US show), and yet in 2010 we have nothing? And I’m referring to terrestrial television, not satellite. There are teenagers who probably have no idea what these programmes are. You would have thought that by now British television would be catering to all races, but I don’t think it is. A lot of things, to me, still feature the “token” character.
I read an article on the Guardian online, from April this year, which was about the black stand up comedy circuit in the UK, but it also touched on black comedy on television too:
” Black comedy on TV is severely rationed. “It’s one in, one out,” says (comedian Stephen K) Amos. “Richard Blackwood had his own show, then Jocelyn Jee Esien had hers [Little Miss Jocelyn]. But I can’t remember when two black comics were ever on TV at the same time.” BBC3’s hidden camera show 3 Non-Blondes, featuring Esien, got two series in 2003 and 2004, as well as rave reviews; but its performers decided against a third series when they became too well known (the comedy depended on disguise).
Because there are so few black comics on TV, each performer shoulders the fortunes of the whole scene. So when 2004 series The Crouches flopped, “the BBC pulled back and said, ‘We can’t do black sitcom’,” says Le Mar. “That’s too much pressure. Why do we always have to be fantastic, or die?”
Ah… The Crouches. The poor old Crouches. They were the BBC’s attempt at providing us with a sitcom featuring a black family as the protagonists, from 2003 – 2005, but it didn’t go down too well. This was initially put down to the fact that the writers were all white, led by Ian Pattinson who was the creator of the dirty, drunken Scottish character Rab C. Nesbitt. By the time the second series arrived, armed with new black writers, viewers had pretty much given up. Even though it featured established actors and entertainers such as Rudolph Walker, Robbie Gee and Mona Hammond, I think that in a way it would probably have been given a better chance if it was shown on Channel 4 or even BBC2, which are channels we are used to seeing culturally diverse programming. But because it was BBC1, which has the stiffest upper-lip reputation, people shot it down pretty much instantly. I wanted to like it, I really did, but I found it a bit too corny and “try-hard.”
I guess the problem is as comedienne Gina Yashere says in the Guardian piece – television is run by white, middle-class men, and realistically they don’t want to see what they can’t relate to. But execs please, try it… you might like it! So many of us are enjoying the current series of ‘The Family’ on CH4, something that many black/African families can relate to, because the family featured are of Nigerian origin living in London like so many of us. So execs, I’m not calling for a complete TV black-out, of course not – just please acknowledge that we have stories too…