I love black sitcoms. And since it’s Black History Month and there’s a spotlight on black voices right now, well, why not talk about black sitcoms of the ‘90s, most notably from my three favorite networks growing up, UPN, The WB and Fox. Sweet and glorious Fox.
Because while ABC and NBC (can you tell that I didn’t have cable growing up?) also had some great black sitcoms, such as Family Matters and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, respectively, I think there’s something to be said for (and please don’t take this the wrong way) just how black UPN, The WB, and Fox were back in the day. I’m talking about whole blocks of nothing but black sitcoms, one after the other, after the other. You didn’t have to be black to enjoy these shows. But, being black myself, I can tell you that it really meant a lot to me seeing other black faces on the TV screen. So, here are five reasons why the WB, UPN, and Fox were really special for black audiences back in the ‘90s.
They Provided Genuine Black Situation Comedy
I love Seinfeld. I love Frasier. And I really love The Simpsons. That’s my favorite show of all time. But they’re not black sitcoms. And that’s fine! I’m not saying every show needs to be a black sitcom. Perish the thought. But I do think that some shows should be black sitcoms, just as I think that some shows should be Asian sitcoms, some shows should be Hispanic sitcoms, and some shows should be Native American sitcoms. I mean, are there any Native American sitcoms? If so, please point me in that direction because I would love to see them.
The point is that I just love diversity, and UPN, Fox, and the WB killed it in that department when it came to sitcoms with situations that black audiences could relate to. I loved Brotha Man (From the fifth flo) always sneaking into Martin’s house and stealing food from his fridge. I loved Shawn Wayans on The Wayans Bros trying to get a corporate job, only to find out that he was only hired because he was black. Or Jamie Foxx on The Jamie Foxx Show actually recreating the OJ Simpson trial in a comical way. It’s just that these shows had authentic black comedy that anybody could enjoy, but that black people would especially connect with, and I kind of love them for that.
They Mostly Included Positive Life Lessons, Often In Urban Environments
When it came to movies, the '90s and early '00s kind of sucked for black cinema. I’m not saying that there weren’t good black movies. There were plenty! But a lot of them were focused on the gangbanging aspect. Think Boyz n the Hood, Juice, and Belly (Note to self: Write an article about Belly). Sure, there were some fun ones in there, like House Party, Bad Boys, and my personal favorite, Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood, but even those kind of played on some of the negative stereotypes that were prevalent at the time.
But TV was a little different. Shows like Moesha, The Steve Harvey Show, The Parent ‘Hood (costarring Big Worm! Faizon Love), Sister, Sister, and Everybody Hates Chris usually always had a wholesome message at the end of every episode. Just think, Smart Guy was on the same network as 7th Heaven (Seeeeeventh Heaven), so you just knew that you would at least get something positive out of it. And thankfully, it was from a black family, which hopefully warmed up families of other ethnicities to feel comfortable welcoming black people into their homes. Because why not? They had black faces on their TV screens at least once a week, after all.
They Introduced A Lot Of Black Comedians To A Multitude Of Audiences
Plus, a lot of black comedians made their first big start on UPN, The WB, and Fox. As I mentioned earlier, both Jamie Foxx and Steve Harvey had shows on the WB. Bernie Mac, while already pretty famous, had his own sitcom in The Bernie Mac Show. And even D.L. Hughley had his own series in The Hughleys.
But without a doubt, the biggest, most groundbreaking program had to be In Living Color on Fox. It was pretty much the black SNL (actually, Mad TV may have been the black SNL, but I’ll save that for another day), as it really introduced David Alan Grier, Tommy Davidson, Jennifer Lopez (Fly Girl number 1!) and of course (even though he's not black) JIM CARREY to the world! We likely never would have had such classics as The Mask, Dumb and Dumber, and Ace Ventura: Pet Detective if not for In Living Color. And don’t you forget it!
They Provided A Diverse Alternative To Shows Found on Other Networks
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. I hate Friends. I hate it so much that whenever it’s on the screen, I always just say, “Shaaaadap” and sometimes even toss my remote control at the TV. I just don’t like it, I’ve never liked it, and I never will like it. I just don’t think it’s funny. But people LOVED Friends back in the day. And that’s fine. Like what you like.
But back in the '90s, I had Living Single, which I thought was a far superior show that featured four, strong, independent black women (Kim, Khadijah, Synclaire, and Maxine) just living their lives in the city. I found their (mis)adventures in both their professional and personal lives totally engaging, and I thought they were much more well-rounded when it came to their storylines than (ugh) Rachel, Monica, and Phoebe. And while I didn’t much like Girlfriends back in the day, I really like it now that it’s on Netflix. It’s so good!
They Created A Lasting Impression For Black Generations To Come
In my other life away from writing, I teach Black and Hispanic students. They’re all lovely and they brighten my day. Well, one thing that I find extremely fascinating is that even though they are 7th graders, meaning they’re about 11, 12, and 13, a lot of them are well aware of the black sitcoms I watched growing up when I was a kid.
“Mr. Knight, have you ever heard of a show called Martin?” Uh, yeah. It’s one of my favorite shows ever. “Mr. Knight, you ever hear of a show called The PJ’s? My Dad watches it.” Yeah, of course. Eddie Murphy. Great show. It’s just that, again and again and again, my students always remind me of all the shows I used to watch since their parents are about my age or a little older, and they used to watch those same shows, too. In that way, even though kids now have shows like Black-ish and Insecure, they’d still just rather watch The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. And isn’t that grand?
In the end, UPN, Fox, and the WB were a huge part of my childhood. But what about you? Did I take you down memory lane? Sound off in the comments section or in the poll below about which were your favorite networks and shows growing up. I wanna get nostalgic, people!
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Rich is a Jersey boy, through and through. He graduated from Rutgers University (Go, R.U.!), and thinks the Garden State is the best state in the country. That said, he’ll take Chicago Deep Dish pizza over a New York slice any day of the week. Don’t hate. When he’s not watching his two kids, he’s usually working on a novel, watching vintage movies, or reading some obscure book.