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Mixed Progress For Multicultural-Themed Series

10/11/2011 11:49 PM

Last November I wrote a blog touting BET’s comedy series Reed Between The Lines as one of several cable shows expected to usher in a new era of scripted series with predominantly multicultural casts.

While the Malcolm Jamal-Warner/Tracee Ellis Ross series debuted on BET last night  (Oct. 11), the roll out of multicultural-themed scripted shows on cable has been slow at best.

Some observers argue the industry has actually taken a step backward in the past year.

Other than Reed Between The Lines, only one show with a predominately multicultural cast is set to debut before the end of the year. TBS’ third Tyler Perry-produced comedy sitcom, For Better or Worse — based on Perry’s hit movie franchise Why Did I Get Married? – will debut next month.

For Better Or Worse replaces Perry and TBS’ first hit sitcom House of Payne, which will end its run this year after producing a whopping 220-plus episodes.

TBS will continue to develop new episodes for Perry’s Meet The Browns, as well as the Ice Cube-produced series Are We There Yet? 

Meanwhile several high-profile series with multicultural casts were cancelled in 2011. Medical drama HawthoRNe starring Jada Pinkett Smith was pulled from TNT’s lineup after three seasons, while ABC Family’s new summer comedy State Of Georgia featuring Raven-Symoné and Loretta Devine failed to draw a big audience and was cancelled after one season.

Cable’s late-night lineup lost its multicultural flavor this past summer when TBS pulled the plug on the George Lopez starrer Lopez Tonight, and BET’s The Mo’Nique Show was put on indefinite hiatus.

Some will argue that the loss of these shows is just part of the natural turnover of network lineups. But when so few shows offer diverse images and characters beyond the typical buddy-buddy/best friend supporting roles, any such loss is magnified.

On the positive side, BET’s The Game proved that there is an audience for content with predominantly multicultural casts, launching this past January to 7.7 million viewers — a record for a cable comedy series premiere.  BET went on to renew the football-themed series as well as freshman comedy Let’s Stay Together.

Last Spring, VH1 targeted multicultural females viewers with its original dramedy Single Ladies. The Queen Latifah-produced series averaged nearly 2 million viewers during its freshman run to earn a second season renewal.

BBC America is currently running the second season of its police thriller Luther, starring Emmy award nominated actor Idris Elba, while TV One will bring back its first scripted series next week with the second season debut of comedy series Love That Girl! starring Tatyana Ali.

September