In addition, the networks did not want to risk offending viewers—or potential advertisers—in the South who supported segregation the forced separation of people by race. Whatever the reason, prime-time television programming largely ignored the real-life concerns and contributions of America's racial minorities for many years. There were a few early TV shows that featured minorities. The popular situation comedy sitcom I Love Lucy , which aired from to , co-starred comedian Lucille Ball — and her real-life husband, bandleader Desi Arnaz — , who was Hispanic.
Even though the program attracted many of the top performers of that time, it was cancelled after one year because it failed to find a sponsor a company that pays to produce a program for advertising purposes. A very popular early variety program, The Ed Sullivan Show , featured a number of black performers as guests. Still, African Americans mostly appeared on TV in the role of entertainers.
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This situation slowly began to improve during the civil rights movement —75 , when African Americans fought to end segregation and gain equal rights in American society. TV news programs provided extensive coverage of civil rights protests, which helped turn public opinion in favor of the cause of equality. As awareness of racial discrimination unfair treatment based on race increased, more social critics began complaining about the absence of minority characters on television.
They argued that positive portrayals of minority characters in TV programs could help increase the self-esteem of minority viewers, promote understanding, and improve race relations in the United States.
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He won three Emmy Awards for his role. In Diahann Carroll — became the first black woman to star in a prime-time TV series. She played the title character in Julia , a sitcom about a nurse raising her young child alone after her husband's death. Since Julia lived in an apartment building with both black and white tenants and never faced prejudice or discrimination due to her race, some critics complained that the show did not reflect the realities of the African American experience.
But Carroll claimed that Julia was as realistic as any other fictional program on TV. Even the white families were cardboard [one-dimensional or flat]. During the s, television program ratings began using such viewer characteristics as age, income, education, and ethnicity to break down the mass audience into smaller groups. Once the networks could collect more detailed data about the audience, they began creating programs to appeal to specific groups. Around this time, the networks also shifted their general focus away from older, rural viewers and toward younger, urban viewers, who were seen as more likely to spend money on sponsors' products.
This change in audience focus led the networks to tackle more frequently debated issues in their programs. As a result, several programs featuring minority characters and families first appeared in the s. Some historians credit Wilson for leading the way for later black comedians who had successful television careers, such as Arsenio Hall — , Eddie Murphy — , Chris Rock — , and Dave Chappelle —. However, other critics claim that Wilson started an unfortunate trend in which a growing number of African American entertainers on television played the role of comic fool.
Another important minority show of the s was Good Times , which aired on CBS for five years beginning in This situation comedy focused on the struggles of an African American family living in an inner-city apartment building. Each week the Evans family relied on love and humor to overcome discrimination, unemployment, crime, and other problems faced by many black families in the United States. Many TV critics praised the series for dealing with these issues in a realistic way, and many viewers identified with the family's struggles during tough economic times.
But some African Americans felt that the character of son J. In fact, the actors who played his parents, John Amos — and Esther Rolle — , left the show in protest when its focus shifted from the family to the clownish J. The Jeffersons , which aired on CBS for a decade beginning in , was another important show about an African American family.
It was created by Norman Lear — , who also created the popular but controversial show All in the Family.
The sitcom centered on George Jefferson played by Sherman Hemsley [—] , a successful black businessman who moved his family into a luxury high-rise apartment building in New York City. George often behaved rudely and made a fool of himself, only to be rescued by his patient wife, Louise Isabel Sanford [—]. The program reached number four in the annual television ratings in —75, demonstrating that shows starring African Americans could achieve widespread, popular success.
But it also received criticism during its long run for portraying some characters as stereotypes. The mids also saw the launch of the first prime-time TV series centering on a Hispanic character. Chico is a talented young mechanic who builds a relationship with a cranky old garage owner, Ed Brown played by Jack Albertson [—].
The show was set in a multicultural neighborhood in East Los Angeles , and it received critical praise for presenting a thriving Hispanic culture to national TV audiences. The show continued after the death of Prinze in , but went off the air the following season. Another landmark program in African American TV history is Roots , an eight-part mini-series a short series of television programs with a continuing story line that earned some of the highest ratings ever when it aired in Based on a historical novel by Alex Haley — , it followed four generations of an African American family, beginning when the first member was brought to the United States from Africa and sold as a slave.
Many people hoped that the miniseries would increase awareness of the impact slavery had on African American families, and thus would help improve race relations in the United States. The Cosby Show a sitcom that aired on NBC from to and claimed the top spot in the annual TV ratings four times, also had a broad appeal.
Cosby played Dr. Cliff Huxtable, a successful physician and wise and loving father. Phylicia Rashad — played his wife Clair, a respected attorney and patient mother.
Some critics claimed that the program was unrealistic, partly because two professional, working parents could never spend so much time at home with their children. Others complained that the show did not do enough to address issues of importance to African Americans. But many viewers found it refreshing to see the positive image of a comfortable, confident, and loving black family on TV each week. During the s and s, American television viewers gained many new channel options. The growth of cable TV services—and the introduction of new broadcast networks such as Fox, UPN, and WB—greatly expanded the amount of programming available on television.
Many of the new cable channels and smaller broadcast networks directed their programs toward minorities, since these audiences were not being well served by the major networks. Even as shows for and about minorities became more widely available, however, prominent roles for people of color were rare in prime-time programs on the major broadcast networks.
There were a few examples of multicultural casts in mainstream series. The police drama Miami Vice , which aired from to , depicted a pair of detectives. In many cases, though, the minorities who appeared in prime time cop shows were depicted as criminals, gang members, or drug addicts. In general, television programming became more segregated separated by race in the age of cable, with individual shows tending to feature casts that were either white or black.
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As of The Cosby Show was the last major network program with equal appeal to black and white viewers. Polls showed that black and white Americans tended to watch completely different sets of shows. Most of the programs that attracted large numbers of minority viewers aired on the smaller broadcast networks or on specialized cable networks. Critics argued that these separate viewing patterns prevented people of different races from developing shared interests and common cultural references and thus contributed to the racial divisions in American society.
In the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People NAACP and other minority organizations formally complained about the lack of diversity in network television programs.
The networks responded by adding more minorities to the casts of shows and actively recruiting minority employees. By the early s the effort had produced some positive results. Surveys showed that African Americans accounted for 15 percent of the characters in prime-time series. This figure was similar to the percentage of African Americans in the overall U.
Hispanics did not fare as well in prime-time TV series. Although Hispanics made up Cable operators targeted the Hispanic market with an increase in Spanish-language programming in the s. But Hispanic activists wanted to see more Hispanic characters in mainstream programming as well. For example, they pointed out that several popular prime-time series were set in Miami, Florida, where as of the early s about 66 percent of the population was Hispanic.
Even so, these programs did not feature Hispanic characters in major roles. One of the few successful network series to focus on a Hispanic family was George Lopez , which began airing on ABC in This sitcom starred Hispanic comedian George Lopez — as the manager of an aircraft parts factory who struggles to deal with his rebellious teenaged children, ambitious wife, and meddlesome mother.
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Some experts believe that the key to improving minority representation on television is to increase the number of minorities who work in positions of authority in the TV industry—as station managers, for instance, or as network programming executives. They argue that putting people of color in charge of programming at the major networks and at local TV stations would lead to more frequent, accurate, and respectful portrayals of minorities on screen.
Television has a mixed record when it comes to portraying women and gender roles.