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Why the black experience is the main ingredient in TV success

With ‘black-ish’ ending and ‘Insecure’ making a return, the black experience remains big on the small screen

Jay Z once rapped “men lie, women lie, numbers don’t.” And the numbers continue to say that black people are undisputed culture influencers. From breaking barriers on the award stage, to creating successful genres at the box office, to controlling the radio — black arts set the tone — and naturally, everyone else follows.

In a world where everything is separated by a broadly stroked color line, TV serves as the middle ground. The resurgence of black TV reveals something more telling than the narrative of separation we might find in the news: People are fascinated by black culture. A Nielsen report shows that these shows featuring predominantly black casts depicting black life attract audiences that are not black.

According to the report, 79 percent of black-ish’s audience is nonblack and 61 percent of Insecure’s audience is nonblack.

“When we first saw that so much of our audience was nonblack, we were like, ‘Wow, that’s so fascinating.’ And then you get mad that that should be fascinating, you know, because we’re just telling stories about humans,” said Prentice Penny, executive producer of black-ish, in an interview.

Consider Empire, a successful show with broad appeal that has a majority black audience. Its popularity among black viewers was so great that it eventually drove the show to become a phenomenon.

With an estimated $1 trillion buying power and social media — namely Twitter — on lock, black people have solidified their position as the key to success in television shows and the arts.

How is any of this possible? The answer: the culture. Black influence sets the trend for what draws the most eyes. Shows that feature all-black casts or black actors in leading roles appeal to a wider demographic than just black audiences. Insecure and black-ish are tapping into the same magic that the shows Martin, Sanford and Son, and Diff’rent Strokes did and highlight the duality that exists within the black experience: a television experience that both serves those it represents and educates those it doesn’t.

Martin, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and Family Matters all feature episodes that are just as relevant now as they were back then. Maybe you’re black. Maybe you’re white. Maybe you’re something else. But the beauty of this show, and so many other black-based television shows past and present, is that they are timeless. Because black TV has never been just for one group, or just for the moment.

Gertrude “Trudy” Joseph is a senior at UMass Amherst and intern with The Undefeated. She will probably be either the youngest “Gertrude” you will ever meet or the only “Gertrude” you will ever meet. From the birthplace of basketball (shout to the entire 413), Trudy believes the “Kobe System” is the single most important commercial of our time.