|Even M.A.N.T.I.S. lasted more episodes|
M.A.N.T.I.S. was a TV series that aired for one season on the FOX Network between August 1994 and March 1995. (Two unaired episodes were broadcast for the first time on the Sci-Fi Channel in September 1997.) The original two-hour TV pilot was produced by Sam Raimi and developed by Sam Hamm. It starred actor Carl Lumbly. The show was unique, inasmuch as it depicted an African-American superhero.It's lamentable that most Black television shows (outside of Tyler Perry) consistently fail to find an audience and never have the opportunity to garner the high rates of return found in the lucrative market of syndication, and M.A.N.T.I.S was a show that was ever so close to breaking into the mainstream.
Television is becoming increasingly the realm for white shows, with roles for Black actresses scarce and opportunities for Black actors diminishing. Unsubstantiated claims that the despondent nosedive in ratings that M.A.N.T.I.S. drew throughout the shows only season being the primary catalyst behind the lack of Black shows have yet to be corroborated.
Though the 2010 lineup has been anything but Black, continuing a long, steady decline in shows with Black people in starring roles:
Entertainment Weekly asked in 2008 "Why is TV so white?" and the answer is still eluding those who decide a show is worth producing and marketing, just as it was in the 1990s. It comes down to dollars and common sense:The broadcast networks have made great strides in recent years by diversifying the faces we see on primetime TV, a momentum that carries into new and returning shows on the 2010-11 schedule.But it’s a scattershot success. At the moment, the number of scripted, live-action shows on broadcast television with all-black (or predominantly minority, for that matter) casts is exactly zero.
If you take into account reality series, "you might actually be able to make the case that there are more African-Americans on broadcast TV than ever before," longtime media agency research guru Steve Sternberg told TheWrap.
Just not all on the same screen.
"Black people are starved for shows which not only feature lots of black actors but that put black culture front and center in a way they enjoy," veteran TV critic Eric Deggans of the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times, told TheWrap.
But as journalist Janine Jackson points out, the industry treats mainly white audiences and more diverse audiences differently, in terms of ratings and advertising dollars. For instance, WB’s two most successful black series—The Steve Harvey Show and The Jamie Foxx Show—draw the same number of viewers as the predominantly white-audience show Felicity, and yet a 30-second commercial on Felicity costs twice as much. And even though The Steve Harvey Show attracts 500,000 viewers more per episode than the popular white series Dawson’s Creek, a 30-second commercial on the Creek still brings in $63,000 more in advertising revenues.What was it we said about income inequality? We'd be remiss not to point out that Black people do star in reality TV to a degree that mirrors real life.
Entertainment Weekly has a feature called the "Diversity Scorecard" and had this to say about the lily-white lineup of new shows for 2010:
Sure, we have a black president now, but do you want to see a real sign of racial progress? Watch NBC'sKodjoe and Gugu Mbatha-Raw) for no apparent reason other than their talent and attractiveness.
'Mr. & Mrs. Smith'-like spy drama 'Undercovers' this fall, a drama that has cast as its leads two black performers (Boris and Gugu Mbatha-Raw) for no apparent reason other than their talent and attractiveness.
All right, maybe having a network drama with two people of color as leads doesn't look much like progress to you, but this is network TV we're talking about, which, as a mirror of the nation, is notoriously slow to respond to social trends (like, say, the changing complexion of America). We're also talking about a TV landscape in which some of the shows with the most racially diverse casts ('Heroes,' 'Lost,' 'Law & Order') have just gone off the air.Deemed one of the hot new shows of the year and lauded with high praise, Undercovers was silently being touted as the next potential M.A.N.T.I.S., elevating Black people in television to a level unseen since the glory of Dr. Huxtable, presenting ebony actors with a chance to move on up to the big time.
Judging by what we know of the fall's TV fare, as announced by the networks last week, there are hardly any shows with all-white casts, but how many of them have leading roles for actors of color, and how many just have the occasional best-friend or supportive-coworker roles?
Why is it important to have diversity in starring roles? Network TV audiences are shrinking, but network TV remains the default, mainstream choice. People like to see people who look like themselves in starring roles, and that includes members of long-ignored groups who are making up an ever-increasing percentage of the mainstream viewership the networks need, more than ever, to reach.
It's noteworthy, too, that these are the shows the networks greenlit because they did so, not out of political correctness, but because they believed these were the shows that would attract the most advertising dollars. Sponsors don't want edgy, socially experimental shows; they want shows that will provide hospitable environments for their commercials and will attract desirable groups of viewers. So the vote of confidence in a show like 'Undercovers' doesn't just come from Hollywood creative types or network suits, but from corporate America. It's not about quotas or tokenism, it's about free-market capitalism in action.
USA Today had this to say of the show:
The plot for Undercovers is serviceable, but hardly novel: Married former spies are drawn back into undercover work by their former agency employers. But whatever happens to the show, it has broken ground with its casting. The series is network TV's only drama built around two black leads, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Boris Kodjoe.
Josh Reims, who co-wrote the show with J.J. Abrams, says it was not written with any ethnic or racial group in mind. We did not go out of the way to hire two black actors to lead the show. But we did realize it would be great if we could do that ...We don't consider that we're revolutionizing TV, but at the same time, we do recognize that it's a big deal."
|Please bring it back. Black people need this show.|
In the end, Undercovers got the praise but the audience forgot to tune in, dispelling the notion from above that Black people are starved for shows with Black characters (perhaps Black culture was absent?):
NBC has officially pulled the plug on Undercovers, starring Boris Kodjoe and Guba Mbatha-Raw as married spies. The television drama was canceled after the show consistently produced dismal ratings. Its recent airing brought out a 1.3 rating in the 18-to-49 age demo. While the show is still filming its 12th episode, NBC will not commit to anything past its original 13-episode order.First M.A.N.T.I.S., now Undercovers. Perhaps if Black people had tuned in the show might have stuck around a little longer.
All we can say is bring back M.A.N.T.I.S... no one is going to miss Undercovers except the people who claimed it would be the hottest show because of the two Black leads it sported. But we still miss M.A.N.T.I.S. everyday.
Black people could have watched the show, but just like the idea of buying Black, Undercovers was largely unwatched by Black people who scream with indignation upon its cancellation.