Picture This

'Heights' No Longer Making History

2/02/2010 1:21 AM

Feb. 1 marked the start of Black History Month, and as with every February in recent years a number of cable networks are showcasing various specials, movies, and original programming fare highlighting African American excellence on the small screen.

Unfortunately this February also marks the departure of ad-supported cable network’s only scripted drama series with a predominantly African-American cast. ABC Family recently canceled Lincoln Heights, which explored the complex developments within the lives of an African-American police officer and his family who move from the suburbs to the inner-city neighborhood he grew up in.

The show was a hit for ABC Family when it launched in 2006, but struggled from a ratings perspective in recent years. Lincoln Heights’ last season was also its poorest performing, barely averaging 1.0 million viewers after averaging a high of 1.3 million during its sophomore campaign, according to Nielsen.

The show still had strong African-American viewership in its final season, averaging 565,000 viewers — the second best showing for the series. That should bode well for TV One, which last month picked up rights to all four seasons of the series from ABC Family.

Still, it’s unfortunate that no new episodes will be created for such a well-written and critically acclaimed series. The series, produced by Kathleen McGhee-Anderson, won an NAACP Image Award in 2009, is nominated for three additional Image Awards this year, and has been nominated for numerous NAMIC Vision, TCA and Director’s Guild Awards since it launched in 2006.

With the cancellation of Lincoln Heights and the future status of HBO’s freshman drama series The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency still up in the air, it seems that comedy sitcoms and celeb-reality shows are the only programming genres prominently featuring African-American actors and actresses onscreen.

While cable offers numerous shows that feature African-Americans in supporting roles, it’s still important for the industry to offer shows that showcase strong African-American lead characters that appeal to mainstream audiences as well as to African-Americans viewers looking for positive and dynamic on-screen characters who happen to look like them. Hopefully several such shows will find their way onto cable network lineups before next February rolls around.

September