Tuesday, October 3, 2023

5 Forgotten Black Sitcoms.

November 29, 2020 by  
Filed under Ent., News, Opinion, Weekly Columns

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(ThyBlackMan.com) There are some sitcoms that we probably watched when they ran but they weren’t at the top of your list to catch. I mean, it’s hard to compete with Martin, Living Single, and Sanford and Son. Let’s look at five forgotten Black sitcoms.

Sparks (1996-1998, UPN, BET)

Anyone who knows me knows that I’ll bring up Sparks any time Black sitcoms or 90s sitcoms are discussed. Is that a very specific time to bring up Sparks? Yes. Are people surprised when I mention it? Yes.

In a nutshell, this show was about a law firm in Compton. It starred James Avery, Robin Givens, Terrence Howard, Kym Whitley, and Miguel A. Nunez Jr. With that cast, how could this show escape people’s memories? I guess the answer lies in if the show was good or not…which it was.

One problem it had going for it is that even though it was shown in primetime, UPN in most markets wasn’t the best network for a new show because of reception. UPN could be so fuzzy at times that shows that came out that year looked like reruns of older shows.

It didn’t help that most of UPN’s schedule was older shows and movies. Even though it only ran for two seasons, Sparks managed to land on BET sometime after its cancellation.

Homeboys in Outer Space (1996-1997, UPN)

We’ll stick around UPN a little while longer. There were some comedy gems on the network. Homeboys in Outer Space wasn’t one of them. Actually, it would be totally forgettable if not how well Flex and Darryl M. Bell played off of each other.

Again, this was another show that suffered from being on UPN. If this—and Sparks—dropped on FOX during the 90s, both probably would’ve done better. I could’ve seen Homeboys going three seasons minimum since FOX was attempting any Black sitcom that would fit its “edgy network” approach.

homeboysinOuterSpace - UPN

You Take the Kids (1990-1991, CBS)

At least Homeboys in Outer Space got a nice-sized season! You Take the Kids was a sitcom starring Nell Carter and Roger E. Mosley. It only ran for six episodes and was supposed to be an answer to Roseanne.

Now, Roseanne was ABC’s sitcom beast in the 90s. It allowed ABC to run other sitcoms which worked during that decade—and even some that didn’t. It was popular that it even a cartoon series on ABC.

However, the closest family sitcoms to competition with a similar or better edge to it were Married with Children, Grace Under Fire, and Thea. Only two of those went the distance and two of them were also on ABC.

Thea (1993-1994, ABC)

Honestly, Thea should’ve gone the distance. When it came out of the gate, the ratings were strong and it wasn’t on the buzz of being the first time a Black female comedian was the star of a show named after them. Thea was just a funny sitcom.

Now, ratings wouldn’t really matter to those of us who just want to watch funny shows but those ratings make it worth the investment by a network. Looking at the numbers, the ratings drops weren’t even that severe.

There have been shows that weren’t getting 14 million to 23 million watching weekly—and still ran for several seasons! Hell, ABC ran shows after Thea that flopped.

Who knows, it probably would’ve rebounded with a second season or when the eventual crossover episodes with Roseanne were done. Having watched it recently, it was a really fun ABC sitcom.

As was the case with Sparks—this is also the third show with Miguel Nunez Jr involvement—it also ran on BET later on. This is the first instance on this list of a forgotten sitcom with the perfect network at the time.

The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer (1998, UPN)

Oof. I don’t know if this show is just forgotten or if it was killed before it took off and we all subconsciously never to speak of it again. This was “that slavery sitcom” when actually the main character—played by Chi McBride—was the President’s butler.

It was kneecapped early on by the Los Angeles branch of the NAACP. Given the importance of the Civil War to Black people, this show was way too light-hearted and yuk-yuk with it at the time. As I’ve said here and on AfroGamers, TV and film writing have come a long way over the decades.

A show like this one probably could’ve floated if it was created later on and ran on Comedy Central. The comedy writing for this particular topic wasn’t at Drunken History level in 1998. This was either going to be clumsy or too offensive.

I blame UPN. The network had gotten so stoked with how its sitcoms did with Black demographics that this probably didn’t look like a bomb even after hearing the concept, reading scripts, and filming the show.

However, it was a textbook UPN sitcom and was even advertised as such. Only five episodes of the show was aired and that was all in October 1998. I don’t know if anyone would be so bold as to reboot this series. I can see the concept but the name?

Another heavy “oof” on this one.

Staff Writer; M. Swift

This talented writer is also a podcast host, and comic book fan who loves all things old school. One may also find him on Twitter at; metalswift.

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