Empire Proves Hollywood Needs More Black Shows
Uncle Luke, the man whose booty-shaking madness made the U.S. Supreme Court stand up for free speech, gets as nasty as he wants to be for Miami New Times. This week, Luke talks about the hottest show on television.
The success of the TV show Empire, which chronicles the life of rap mogul Lucious Lyon and his family, is making the case for more prime-time programming that focuses on America's black diaspora. African-American viewers have made Empire, as well as other shows led by black actors and producers (like Black-ish, How to Get Away With Murder, and Scandal) the top programs people watch at night.
See also: Five Reasons Why Fox's Empire Has Become a Breakout Hit
Empire leads the way. African-Americans represent 61 percent of the show's viewership. When it premiered in early January, the drama averaged a 3.8 Nielsen rating among adults 18 to 49. It had 9.9 million viewers, tying ABC's How to Get Away With Murder as the top launch of the 2014-15 season. Empire was Fox's biggest debut in three years, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Still, Hollywood is not making a strong enough effort to create more shows that appeal to African-American audiences. A friend of mine who's a Los Angeles producer tells me every time he tries to pitch a show revolving around a black person, studio executives frown and say, "Oh, no." He gets shot down even though Empire is killing it.
The major networks need to realize that black people are their primary viewers. Part of the reason: a good number of African-American families can't afford to pay for HBO and Showtime. Fox, home to the news network that hates America's black president, took a chance on Empire, a hip-hop-driven drama starring two of the best black actors in the business, Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson. The gamble has paid off.
In reality, shows headlined by black people guarantee a 100 percent return on a studio's investment. People used to say Oprah was so successful because she appealed to white audiences. Well, since Oprah's show went off the air, Wendy Williams, who is the exact opposite of Oprah, is dominating daytime television. Her show's ratings regularly beat those of The Ellen DeGeneres Show, which has a wider distribution.
Black comedians are also taking over the TV game show circuit. Steve Harvey leads Family Feud, and Wayne Brady hosts Let's Make a Deal.
Yet there were no black actors or directors nominated for anything significant at this year's Academy Awards show. Selma, the movie about the 1965 voting-rights marches in Alabama, was nominated for best picture, but it had no chance against four other films depicting the struggles of white dudes.
There's no excuse for a Hollywood studio to pass on programming and for Oscar voters to pass on movies centered on black people. The proof is in the ratings and at the box office.
Tune in to Luke on The Andy Slater Show every Tuesday from 2 to 5 p.m. on Miami's Sports Animal 940 AM.
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