Wednesday, April 14, 2010

#623. Franklin Delano Bluth of "Arrested Development"

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.

Franklin Delano Bluth:

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.
[strangles Franklin]
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.

, 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.


Anonymous said...

Blacks are 12% of the population. In view of this fact, they are OVER-represented by far in our media: television, movies, magazines, internet ads, etc. Instead of focusing on including more "minority faces" on TV -- (and please take note of the implicit racism in the NAACP's equation of "minority faces" with BLACK faces; as if Orientals, Hispanics, Indians, etc., don't exist) -- we should be harnessing our collective mental energies in trying to find a way to jettison the glut of black faces that our overcrowding our billboards, commercials, prime-time shows, and video games.

Anonymous said...

Great post. It's been so long since I've watched Arrested Development I had forgotten all about Franklin Delano Bluth.

A.D. was cutting edge and hilarious, way too intelligent for most people.

In my opinion, Will Arnett as "GOB" ranks up there with "Cosmo Kramer" and "Barney Fife" as one of the funniest tv characters ever created.

Anonymous said...

Arrested Development was a very erotic show.


Anonymous said...


Arrested Development was one of the funniest and most underrated shows on network TV.

Anyone "offended" by any aspect of that show is an idiot.

-Black guy

Anonymous said...

Arrested Development was brilliant and a show I never tire of watching on DVD. It is a sad commentary on present day America that such a cleverly written show with masterful acting never attracted a viable audience.

Stuff Black People Don't Like said...

Black guy,

Arrested Development is my favorite show of all-time. Brilliant, utterly brilliant. I have never laughed harder in my life then when I watched Tobias dress up as Ms. Featherbottom and proposition Michael Bluth for a "Banger in the mouth."

If you like this blog and are reading this comment, do yourself a favor and go watch "Arrested Development" season one.

It is anything but political correct, pokes fun at everybody and of course, has Franklin Bluth.

Pay close attention to EVERY episode, because story arcs don't finish in one or two episodes but in the next season (or even in third, as evident by Steve Holt!).

Stuff Black People Don't Like said...


I couldn't agree more. DVD sales have been excellent, and replays on TV through syndication have attracted a whole new audience to the adventures of George Bluth, Sr.

Long have I had a debate with friends as to which character is the shows funniest.

Gob, Tobias or George Sr.?

I'd say Franklin though...

Anonymous said...

I'm typing this comment with a mouth wand because a seal ate both my hands and not just one of them.

Hagbard Celine said...

Really, who with money, educatiuon, and a successful career (which is where advertisers target their efforts) wants to watch black people on TV? We had our fill of "black culture" in the 70's with The Jeffersons and Sanford and Son. We saw, and we found black culture revolting.

If nappy haired single moms on welfare with a brood of ill-behaved, uneducated hooligans were the source of wealth in this world, then TV would be full of blacks. Thankfully, it is not.

Anonymous said...

Hagbard Celine,

Take a class in media and journalism and you'll learn a few interesting facts.

The Jefferson's was a spin off of All in the family. It had no black writers. It was not a "black show" or an insight in "black culture".

Television was designed to sell products, entertainment is secondary that theory is proven by the crappy shows from the 70's and today. Poor and stupid people of all races are targeted by advertisers. Especially a captive audience of "nappy haired" moms on welfare.

I guess the white writers on these "black" shows were able to keep their disgust down long enough to cash their paychecks. Oh, I forgot anytime a white person does something like that you blame the Jews. Awesome!

-Black guy

CWN said...

You cannot really make an honest black show. It sure would not be the cosby's or family matters. Those shows were so far from reality that you could have said that they were written in another dimension.

An honest black show would offend. You could never make one. White liberals would never do it.

Remember, that the good guys can be black or white, but the bad guys have to be white. So no serious look into that deep abyss. For you might offend.

Same thing with the silly "modern family" and the homo couple. You would never show homo's in a bad light. Never show them as degenerates, or the blight that they really are on society.

Really, only whites can be made to look bad. Unless, and only unless, the black is a good guy. If you have a good black guy or black group, then the bad guys can also be black.

It is alot ot take in, but you eventually start to learn the rules. Basically, Whtie, christian , straight males are bad. Blacks, christian bashers, homosexuals, and other minorities are good as a general rule.

What are you gonna do? Atleast Friday was a funny movie.

Anonymous said...


You forgot about HBO's The Wire. That show was apparently very realistic in its depiction of crime, race, and politics in Baltimore.

Anonymous said...

HBO is run by subscription revenue rather than advertisers, so it's a different model. Subscription support can be a lower number of people paying at a higher rate.

Anonymous said...

Isn't the point of Franklin to point out how off point the elite white view is, in regards to black people? (Not to mention every other minority group.) Also, there have been lots of sitcom style shows with mainly black casts, and all of them have failed. You can't fault the networks (who are trying to attract an audience to turn a profit) for running what people watch. There is no "right" to have people that look like you on your TV screen. Its a 1st world problem, which means its not a real problem. Maybe the author of this Blog should try dealing with real issues instead of being upset with satire.

Steve said...

The point of Franklin is "Cringe" humor, just like Michael on The Office. Franklin is a device to showcase GOB's idiocy, jaw-dropping bigotry, and lack of social graces. When GOB acts as Franklin, GOB's the butt-monkey. His idiocy and racism is the joke. Offensiveness moot, IMO.