The 21st century has thus far given television viewers incredibly few shows worthy of following. Black people have a couple of Tyler Perry produced TBS shows, but by and large, television is a virtual white wasteland:
The NAACP is threatening to boycott or sue major TV networks if they don't put more minority workers in front of - and behind - the camera. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Thursday released an updated report on hiring practices in the TV industry called "Out of Focus, Out of Sync: Take 4." The survey found a "serious shortage of minority faces" on prime-time shows and decision-making jobs. "This is America: So goes TV, so goes reality. We don't think it's any accident that before we had a black President in reality, we had a black President on TV," NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous said. <>Dennis Haysbert's role on Fox's "24." Haysbert has since gone on to fill a lead role on CBS' "The Unit," and Laurence Fishburne was recently hired to replace William Petersen on "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation."
Worse, popular reality TV shows have failed to include diverse characters into the mix, especially ABC’s ratings bonanza The Bachelor. The shows main character has always been a presentable, articulate white male that provides eye-candy for the millions of women who watch and live vicariously through the female contestants vying for his affection:
As potential trophy husbands go, Jake Pavelka is mighty shiny. A charming pilot with flawless teeth and a chivalrous demeanor, the only thing missing in his life is the right woman to enjoy the bounty of his pectorals. He's the leading man in this season of The Bachelor, a show I'm watching for the first time and am absorbed in. But as I watch the remaining women vie for Jake's hand in marriage, I can't help but think: Why are all of these people white? In fact, in the 14-season history of the show, all of the bachelors have been white, along with a staggering majority of the women available to him.”
A market demand for a Black gentleman to helm the title role of The Bachelor is non-existent and thus, the show will remain a lily-white fantasy where women can perpetuate their inner desires of a chivalrous and romantic courtship.
In fact, 2009 witnessed only one show – a cartoon – debuting with a predominant Black cast, thus putting an exclamation mark on the overt whiteness of the television show panorama:
“Cleveland Brown favors gentle words, and few words at that. He likes yellow T-shirts and baths. He is also fiercely proud of his African-American heritage, as evidenced by his ''Two Decades of Dignity'' board game and that nice talk he had with a racist cop about how a black bowling ball might feel when surrounded by white pins. It's a good thing, too, because Cleveland Brown is shaping up as network television's great black hope for the 2008-09 season — he's the only minority character anchoring a new series on the Big Five networks. Granted, his Family Guy spin-off, The Cleveland Show, didn't even make it onto the fall schedule (it's slated for midseason). Yes, Cleveland himself is merely a figment of animation. And true, the person who provides his voice, Mike Henry, is actually white. But hey, it's a start, right?
These days, the networks need to ensure that even their cartoons of color count. After a period of making a public effort to focus on diversity in their casting — kickstarted by an NAACP outcry over the white TV landscape in 1999 — the networks have clearly started to lose that focus, and not just when it comes to African-Americans. Today the current prime-time lineup, including fall's 14 new scripted shows, is looking alarmingly pale. According to an Entertainment Weekly study of scripted-programming casts for the upcoming fall 2008 season, each of the five major broadcast networks is whiter than the Caucasian percentage (66.2 percent) of the United States population, as per the 2007 census estimate.”
The images on your television set were once delivered in Black and white, but even with advent of color the predominate dye has always been white as the shows continue to be solidly caste with white people. Utterly inane research has been conducted in a vain attempt to paint viewers of TV shows racist for picking up race bias from the few Token Black people cast.
TV shows have only one audience to placate: the consumer. If ratings fall, the amount of money the network can charge potential advertisers for a 30 second spot suffers as well, thus cutting into the economic viability of the show. If a TV show fails to turn a profit through advertisements – no matter how many Emmy’s it might win – the dreaded axe of non-renewal isn’t far away.
The fate of cancellation was what awaited Arrested Development when it debuted in 2003. Sporting a cast of white people straight out of a Curb Your Enthusiasm episode, the show collected six Emmy’s during its three-year run, but a sizable viewing audience failed to materialize.
Worse, the show centered on the Bluth family, a spoiled and highly dysfunctional white clan in Orange County, California and it was entirely devoid of any minority interaction, save a cameo of by Carl Weathers.
Well, in an effort conciliate Black people for the lack of Black characters in this beautifully written comedic show (with perhaps the greatest attention to character development, story arc creation and greatest attention to detail in the history of TV) a Black puppet was introduced.
The character is first introduced in the Season 2 episode "Meat the Veals," in a flashback to a Bluth family gathering years before. In an effort to hip-up his act, Gob briefly introduced the puppet in a poorly executed ventriloquist act (Gob's mouth moves every time Franklin speaks). Franklin is a fiery-tempered, adulterous, obscenity-spewing, street-wise puppet…
Franklin is a portrayal of the 1950s-1980s stereotype of blacks. As part of the political satire, Franklin also wears a "George Bush doesn't care about black puppets" t-shirt in "Fakin' It," a reference to Kanye West's "George Bush doesn't care about black people" remark. No matter who is controlling him, Franklin often curses and uses racial slurs to describe others in the Bluth Family.
The name Franklin Delano Bluth borrows from the 32nd President of the United States Franklin Delano Roosevelt, but the reason for this is that in the 1970s Sesame Street introduced what some claimed to be an "insultingly stereotypical African-American" puppet named Roosevelt Franklin (though the puppet's actual intended ethnicity was ambiguous and its 'skin' was purple); the character was eventually dropped from the show's line-up. Franklin could also be another tribute to the Peanuts cartoons, as this show also featured an African American character named Franklin. It is also probable Franklin is inspired at least in some way by Chuck's dummy Bob on the television show Soap shown on ABC from 1977 to 1981.
The running gag with Franklin is that despite being a mere puppet, he is actually treated as a real person. This can be seen in "Meat the Veals," where the Security Guard treats him with respect and the police regarded him as threat despite being immobile at the vehicle in the same episode.
Some of Franklin’s choicest quips from the show include:
Narrator: In an effort to "hip" up his act, Gob had briefly introduced a puppet.
[Gob is acting as a black puppet named Franklin in front of the family]
Gob: [as Franklin] Can I tell you something, my man?
Gob: [as himself] Sure, Franklin.
Gob: [as Franklin] You are one cool
Gob: . Speaking of mothers, let me give that oatmeal some brown sugar.
[the puppet 'kisses' Lucille]
George Sr.: Get off my wife, you bastard.
Gob: [as Franklin] What's the matter with you?
Gob: [in the present] Franklin said some things Whitey wasn't ready to hear.
Michael: Gob, weren't you also mercilessly beaten outside of a club in Torrance for that act?
Gob: He also said some things that African-American-y wasn't ready to hear either.
And, in a beautifully worded duet, Franklin said:
Gob: "It ain't easy being white"
Franklin: "It ain't easy being brown"
Gob: "All this pressure to be bright"
Franklin: "I've got children all over town"
Black people don’t have kids all over town by many different women. What is Franklin talking about?
Arrested Development is a cult classic, selling millions of DVDs and sporting a devoted fan base that has convinced Hollywood to produce a film based on the Bluth family troubles.
However, the show is curiously all-white, save for a Black puppet that spews stereotypically Black jive.
Stuff Black People Don’t Like includes Franklin Delano Bluth, a Black puppet that helps integrate the comedy Arrested Development, but provides comedic fodder for white people to laugh at with barely concealed derision. Television desperately needs Black characters, and yet the inclusion of a ghetto Black puppet that helps normalize Black stereotypes is the last thing needed.
Remember, Black people don’t like jokes at their expense.