Television Critics Association press tour/summer ‘08 kicked off this morning with a series of TV One panels. CEO Johnathan Rodgers said TV One is the "only network that targets African-American adults. We also reflect the breadth and the depth of African-American culture. We try to do programming that reflects positively on the lives of African-Americans."
The press obsessed a bit over the absence of Al Sharpton who was a no show. Finally, comedienne Sheryl Underwood - in house for DNC Afterparty, TV One’s upcoming discussion hour which will air nightly during the Democratic Convention - barked:
"Why you keep asking about Al Sharpton!? We here! Ask about me. I got the hair!"
With the Sharpton issue out of the way, the discussion settled into more cerebral matters: "post racial" vs. "post racist," the significance of Barack Obama as the first hip-hop generation president, affirmative action (Michael Eric Dyson, a Georgetown professor and Afterparty panelist, recommends reading Ira Katznelson’s "When Affirmative Action was White"), and other matters.
TV One will air extensive coverage of the Democratic Convention, co-hosted by Joe Madison (XM radio voice and Washington political reporter) and Arthur Fennell (former president of the National Association of Black Journalists, and Comcast CN8 anchorman). Rodgers said one of his goals for convention coverage is to snag "every member of the Congressonal Black Caucus…and get their opinion and input as to what…this means to African-Americans."
Across the TV One presentations, the excitement over the Obama candidacy was palpable.
"Obama has galvanized American youth in an extraordinary way," observed Michael Eric Dyson, "and it has been trans-racial…young people are on the move. It’s has been something we haven’t seen since, really, the Kennedy times in terms of the galvanizing effect."
Said Reverend Marcia Dyson, who will also be a contributor on Afterparty: "The exoticism and excitement abut this whole campaign has been that it was usually just a white man’s game. But when Obama came in, Ralph Ellison, the ‘invisible man’ became ‘oh my god, he’s visible.’ So you can’t excuse his blackness because it’s so true. and so wonderfully black in America, who have demonized the black, but now it stands proudly in your face like marble."
The Obama candidacy seems to have kindled hope for racial reconciliation. Producer of TV One’s four-hour Murder in Black and White Keith Beauchamp observed: "Right now, with the possibility of having a black president, we need to start teaching ourselves tolerance, and begin that process of reconciliation… we need to talk about racism in this county. It’s still a taboo subject. Now, we have an opportunity to see what African-Americans have gone through and how we need to move forward into the future."
Murder in Black and White debuts over four consecutive nights (October 5-8) and examines four unsolved civil rights murders dating back to the 40’s and 50’s. The series was filmed in co-operation with the FBI. (Last year the FBI, working with the Justice Department, announced a new cold case initiative. Currently, the FBI is reviewing about 120 cases.) With both long-silent witnesses and perpetrators aging, the race is on to solve the murders.
TV One also unveiled a new season of the talk/discussion show Black Men Revealed and introduced the two new hosts - Doug and Ryan Stewart. Ryan Stewart said the Obama candidacy has "changed a lot of thought processes. I talk to schools three or four times a month, to middle school kids. And I think God for the position that Barack is in right now because it’s allowing me to really say - ‘y’all can be whatever you want to be, you really can achieve it.’ It’s not…about the rappers and the stuff that’s on TV portraying one segment of [the black community]. But you’ve got doctors, lawyers and astronauts. You’ve got a black man that’s in position not just to run for president…but to win the presidency…it gives me the fire power to go talk to kids….definitely Barack has opened up the door for a lot of change."
TV One strives to offer an honest view of the African-American community - balanced, positive, and intelligent. The channel is an antidote to the drumbeat of negative stereotypes. Because of crime rates in Oakland and Richmond, here in the San Francisco Bay Area we’re inundated with those negative stereotypes on the nightly local (broadcast) news.
Even though TV One is partnered with Comcast, TV One is still lost somewhere in the stratosphere of the dial - #483 here in Marin County/Northbay. (To be fair, Comcast helped launch TV One on basic cable in major African-American urban markets like Baltimore, Washington, Richmond [Va.], Atlanta, Oakland. This launch "got [the cable net] off to a roaring start," said Rodgers in a Multichannel interview back in 2006.)
Still, in lily white Marin - about twenty-five miles from Oakland, and approximately five from Richmond - the network is very difficult to find on the dial, which is unfortunate.
Comcast is big here in Marin. There are 100,650 households in Marin and close to 84,000 (and still growing) subscribe to Comcast.
TV One is a refreshing counterpoint to our local news stories. It’s a network we should all be watching, but it’s probably wishful thinking to hope that someday TV One will be given better placement in my lineup.