Television networks placing token minorities in amongst their seas of the familiar white ensembles to create the illusion that they are “diverse” is nothing new.
We see it time and time again – Raj in The Big Bang Theory, Gloria in Modern Family, and Winston in New Girl.
When Larry Wilmore departed from The Daily Show after nine years, the news of his own irreverent news show on Comedy Central was welcomed, filling the void that the end of The Colbert Report had left.
I even had the chance to see a taping The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore last year while in New York, and it was clear this show was different. And needed.
The Nightly Show hosted by a black man, featuring black comedians, written by black writers, hosting a diverse panel of guests every night, was needed. Not to say that The Daily Show or The Colbert Report aren’t either. I highly believe these comedy based shows are currently needed more than ever in a country that allows biased and unfactual 24hr news cycles.
However, when Jon Stewart departed from his coveted role as host of The Daily Show, and was replaced with South African comedian, Trevor Noah, what was Comedy Central’s token diversity transformed to what seemed to be actual diversity.
But after less than a year of Noah at the desk of The Daily Show, Comedy Central decided the channel had become too diverse, and this week cancelled Wilmore’s The Nightly Show, claiming it “hadn’t resonated with [their] audience.”
In other words their late night hour had become too black for their white audience.
Wilmore, and others since, including myself, have described the abrupt cancellation, which comes into affect this Thursday, as the “unblackening” of television.
But this isn’t a new occurance…
TV has constantly used temporary diversity to appease audiences
As a mixed race child in the 90s, TV for me had what I consider to be a relatively large selection of black programming when compared to todays standards.
- My Wife and Kids
- Kenan and Kel
- Hanging With Mr Cooper
- The Proud Family
- Cousin Skeeter
- Sister Sister
- Smart Guy
- The Fresh Prince of Bel Air
- One on One
…just to name a few.
Granted a lot of the titles on that list were aimed at children and teenagers, but if you compare what was once aired on the likes of The Disney Channel and Nickelodeon, todays shows heavily rely on the token minority to fill the diversity demand.
And it’s not just limited to kids shows.
These days any show that features a majority ethnic cast and is a success is considered an anomaly if watched by white audiences, with Empire the latest show to be disregarded like this, despite beating a 22 year old FOX rating record.
More recently shows such as ABC’s Blackish and Fresh Off the Boat, have been more reminiscent of the family centred shows of the 80s and 90s, but their premises focusing on the lack of diversity for black, Asian, and other non-white audiences.
Yet the White-washing Continues
Despite their being a demand by non-white audiences for shows featuring casts that resemble them, TV networks still believe their audiences are not only white audiences, but that their audiences would not enjoy such shows, ignoring past successes of shows such as the highly watched The Cosby Show, but continuing to ignore current successes.
Seriously, white people like Empire.
Yet for every all black, all Asian, all Hispanic ensemble, there seems to be five more token characters in every other show.
And when those ensembles get too diverse for white audiences* to resonate with them, they become far too easily replaced with irrelevant shows those audiences* can easily resonate** with.
The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore comes to an end this Thursday with Chris Hardwick’s @Midnight moving to the 11.30pm slot…..instead of at midnight.
Way to keep it 100 Comedy Central.
*white television executives **make money from