Black Television Travels

Black Television Travels: African American Media around the Globe

Timothy Havens
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 224
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    Black Television Travels
    Book Description:

    Black Television Travels provides a detailed and insightful view of the roots and routes of the televisual representations of blackness on the transnational media landscape. By following the circulation of black cultural products and their institutionalized discourses - including industry lore, taste cultures, and the multiple stories of black experiences that have and have not made it onto the small screen - Havens complicates discussions of racial representation and exposes possibilities for more expansive representations of blackness while recognizing the limitations of the seemingly liberatory spaces created by globalization. - Bambi Haggins, Associate Professor of Film and Media Studies at Arizona State University A major achievement that makes important contributions to the analysis of race, identity, global media, nation, and television production cultures. Discussions of race and television are too often constricted within national boundaries, yet this fantastic book offers a strong, compelling, and utterly refreshing corrective. Read it, assign it, use it. - Jonathan Gray, author of Television Entertainment, Television Studies, and Show Sold SeparatelyBlack Television Travels explores the globalization of African American television and the way in which foreign markets, programming strategies, and viewer preferences have influenced portrayals of African Americans on the small screen. Television executives have been notoriously slow to recognize the potential popularity of black characters and themes, both at home and abroad. As American television brokers increasingly seek revenues abroad, their assumptions about saleability and audience perceptions directly influence the global circulation of these programs, as well as their content. Black Television Travels aims to reclaim the history of African American television circulation in an effort to correct and counteract this predominant industry lore.Based on interviews with television executives and programmers from around the world, as well as producers in the United States, Havens traces the shift from an era when national television networks often blocked African American television from traveling abroad to the transnational, post-network era of today. While globalization has helped to expand diversity in African American television, particularly in regard to genre, it has also resulted in restrictions, such as in the limited portrayal of African American women in favor of attracting young male demographics across racial and national boundaries. Havens underscores the importance of examining boardroom politics as part of racial discourse in the late modern era, when transnational cultural industries like television are the primary sources for dominant representations of blackness.Timothy Havensis an Associate Professor of television and media studies in the Department of Communication Studies, the Program in African American Studies, and the Program in International Studies at the University of Iowa.In theCritical Cultural Communicationseries

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-5944-8
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction: African American Television Trade
    (pp. 1-28)

    On December 8, 2005, the Museum of Television and Radio in New York broadcast an interactive panel discussion where television writers, actors, programming executives, and viewers at colleges across the country discussed new opportunities for women in dramatic television series. I called in with a question about why dramas featuring women of color have not enjoyed the same success as those with white leads. Susanne Daniels, president of entertainment for Lifetime Entertainment Services, fielded the question:

    It is my understanding . . . this is . . . how I’ve been educated . . . that one of the ways...

  6. 1 Roots and the Perils of African American Television Drama in a Global World
    (pp. 29-56)

    Prior to the runaway worldwide popularity of the 1977 miniseries Roots , few television series featuring African Americans circulated internationally, and none had sufficient success in foreign sales to catch the eyes of program merchants.Amos ’n’ Andy(1951–1953) appeared in the United Kingdom, Australia, Guam, and Nigeria in the 1950s and 1960s, and a smattering of African American situation comedies of the 1970s sold sporadically, includingGood Times(1974–1979) andSanford and Son(1972–1977), but none of these series did much to change the dominant perception at the time that few African American television series could...

  7. 2 Integrated Eighties Situation Comedies and the Struggle against Apartheid
    (pp. 57-78)

    In the late 1970s and early 1980s, prime-time, episodic television featured African Americans almost exclusively in integrated, middle-class situation comedies. Despite the massive domestic and international popularity ofRootsin 1977, U.S. television executives remained unconvinced that African American themes and characters could generate the kinds of audience ratings that warranted the greater expense of dramatic genres, relegating them instead to cheaper genres such as the sitcom. At the same time, international buyers generally shunned U.S. sitcoms because they considered them too culturally specific to translate to foreign markets. As a result, African American television did not circulate widely for...

  8. 3 The Cosby Show, Family Themes, and the Ascent of White Situation Comedies Abroad in the Late 1980s
    (pp. 79-100)

    Beginning in the mid-1980s, changes in both domestic and international media industries led to increased international sales revenues for U.S. programming of all genres. These increases were particularly noticeable in the formerly resistant markets of Western Europe, which had tended to view U.S. programs as overly commercial and ill-suited to their public service broadcasting environments. With the introduction of commercial television in Europe and growing demands for European public service broadcasters to demonstrate their popularity with a broad cross section of the national audience, numerous channels began programming U.S. imports in unconventional ways that led to revisions in the dominant...

  9. 4 The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Channel Fragmentation, and the Recognition of Difference
    (pp. 101-118)

    While white American situation comedies came to dominate the U.S. primetime landscape in the 1990s, African American series, especially situation comedies, tended to feature youth themes addressing multiracial audience segments. This trend followed the growing popularity of rap music and hiphop culture among teenage and young adult fans of all races. The appeal of rap music quickly reached beyond the boundaries of the United States, becoming a popular form and political force in places as diverse as South Korea, China, Brazil, Nigeria, and Italy. Likewise, youth-oriented situation comedies developed worldwide followings in the 1990s as well. Unlike their predecessors in...

  10. 5 The Worldwide Circulation of Contemporary African American Television
    (pp. 119-146)

    Since the mid-1990s, television channels, audience configurations, and program offerings have continued to fragment both at home and abroad. The economics of this splintering landscape have proved challenging for program producers and networks nearly everywhere, and a growing number of them have turned to international markets in order to defray costs and externalize risk. The impact of these developments on television portrayals of all kinds has been a matter of much debate among media scholars. For some, these changes have introduced a degree of diversity heretofore unknown in television around the world (Curtin, 1996, 1999). Others see this diversity as...

  11. 6 Black Television from Elsewhere: The Globalization of Non-U.S. Black Television
    (pp. 147-170)

    In recent years the globalization of television production, the spread of comparatively cheap audiovisual production equipment, channel fragmentation, and various forms of digital video production and distribution have combined to increase the amount of television programming produced and distributed by black communities around the world. In this chapter I examine some of the ways the institutional labors and industry lore surrounding these non-American programs influence production practice elsewhere. What I aim for here is far from a comprehensive portrait of the diversity of black televisual practices worldwide, but rather an index of some of the primary ways that black television...

  12. Conclusion: Transnational Televisual Aesthetics and Global Discourses of Race
    (pp. 171-188)

    The circulation of culture predates the formation of nations, and probably only a small fragment of the world’s cultural exchanges ever travels through the formal circuits of commercial media institutions. The other, unsanctioned, spontaneous exchanges originate in highly localized and communitarian impressions of cultural similarity and difference, allure and repulsion. Though undoubtedly shaped by the forces of history, xenophobia, and the bloody rivalries between nations, the exchanges initiated outside the formal logics of modern institutions tend to be more idiosyncratic, more impressionistic, and less consciously theorized than the kinds of exchanges that emanate from commercial institutions.

    The exchanges in black...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 189-194)
  14. References
    (pp. 195-208)
  15. Index
    (pp. 209-214)
  16. About the Author
    (pp. 215-215)