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A black sitcom is an American term meaning an American sitcom that features a primarily black cast.[1] Although sitcoms with primarily black casts had been present since the earliest days of network television (and indeed predate network television, as popular radio sitcoms included Beulah and Amos 'n' Andy)[2], this genre rose to prominence in the 1990s.[1]



The favourite programmes of television audiences tend to reflect their different ethnic origins/affinities. The exposure of the black community on US TV has been greater than that of other minorities but continues to reflect racial divisions within American society. (To date there has been a scarcity of Latinos and Asians on American TV and "Latino sitcoms" or "Asian sitcoms.")[3][4]

Since US networks were criticised by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) for failing to portray the racial diversity of real world settings drama shows such as West Wing have cast more black characters.[5] However few hit television shows achieve a crossover audience. Black and white Americans still have very different viewing preferences.[5] Dramas with a strong non-white theme and cast are seen as not commanding a financially viable prime-time audience. Nevertheless the black audience is able to sustain targeted programming.[5][6] Black households make up over 20 percent of regular TV viewers[3]

Black sitcoms feature highly in the black audience's top 10 programmes but have limited success with white audiences, attributed by Doug Alligood, senior vice-president at the advertising agency BBDO which has analysed ratings figures, to the failure of humour to translate. The high ratings achieved by Bill Cosby have been ascribed to humour that has appealed to both whites and blacks. [5]

In the early days of television black actors were often cast in stereotypical roles, often as comic clowns in a tradition tracing back to the genre of black minstrelsy popular in the early 20th century. This style permeated the first all-black sitcom, the Amos 'n Andy show, which was widely popular among whites and some blacks but finally taken off air after protests from blacks, including the NAACP. [3]

Subsequent black sitcoms have been criticised as fostering an image of segregation and helping to perpetuate a belief that black and white cultures are so different that integration is undesirable and unworkable.[3]

A series of popular black sitcoms appeared in the 1970s, including That's My Mama, Good Times, Sanford and Son, What's Happening?, and The Jeffersons. In the 1980s sitcoms such as The Cosby Show, A Different World and Frank's Place, challenged stereotypic portrayals of blacks but were nevertheless seen as "black" (segregated) despite appearances by white actors. [3]

After the 1980s, the major US networks appeared to lose interest in black sitcoms, due in part to the success of series such as Seinfeld and Friends with a predominantly white cast. In the 1990s, new network channels such as the Fox network (as well as The WB and UPN), anxious to establish themselves with a black audience, featured new black sitcoms such as Martin and Living Single which drew high ratings among black households and were profitable even with a limited white viewership.[3][7][8][9]

More recently the Fox network has "gone mainstream" with sitcoms and shows designed to attract the larger white audience. Civil rights organizations have accused networks of denying minorities equal opportunity as well as a broader participation in general television programming.[3] From 1997 to 2001, the number of black sitcoms on US television declined from 15 to 6,[10] and that decline has generally continued.[11]

List of notable Black sitcoms









  1. ^ a b Dalton, Mary M.; Laura R. Linder (2005). The sitcom reader: America viewed and skewed. Suny Press. pp. 142. ISBN 0791465691. 
  2. ^ Bogle, Donald (2001). Primetime Blues: African Americans on Network Television. Farrar Straus Giroux. ISBN 0374127204. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Why Is TV So Segregated?, Alvin Poussaint, M.D.,, Retrieved February 18, 2010
  4. ^ Coleman, Robin R. Means. African American viewers and the Black situation comedy: situating racial humor (Routledge 1998) (ISBN 978-0815331254)
  5. ^ a b c d Duncan Campbell (February 6, 2003). "US watches TV in black and white". The Guardian. Retrieved February 18, 2010. 
  6. ^ Howard Rosenberg (January 30, 1998). "Hope, but Still No Guardian Angel for Black Dramas". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved February 18, 2010. 
  7. ^ Joyce Millman (January 25, 1999). "Movin' on down". Retrieved February 18, 2010. 
  8. ^ Suzanne C. Ryan (May 10, 2006). "Black sitcoms may lose home". The Boston Globe. Retrieved February 18, 2010. 
  9. ^ Nancy Hass (February 22, 1998). "A TV Generation Is Seeing Beyond Color". The New York Times. Retrieved February 18, 2010. ("In fact, over all, there is astonishingly little overlap between the most-watched shows among blacks and those among whites.")
  10. ^ Robert F. Moss (February 25, 2001). "The Shrinking Life Span of the Black Sitcom". The New York Times. Retrieved February 18, 2010. 
  11. ^ Aaron Barnhart (September 29, 2009). "“Brothers”: Last of the black network sitcoms". The Kansas City Star. Retrieved February 18, 2010. 


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