What ‘Soul Train’ Set in Motion


The television industry lost a pioneer earlier this month in Soul Train producer and host Don Cornelius.

Cornelius broke down walls with the three-decade run of his syndicated series, self-dubbed “the hippest trip in America” because of its culture-defining, trend-setting content. He opened TV’s doors to African-American performers, actors, producers and writers both in front of and behind the camera through perseverance, hard work and soul.

African-Americans have progressed significantly on the boob tube since the early days of Soul Train in the 1970s. African-American-targeted cable networks such as BET, TV One, Centric and Africa Channel — as well as recent broadcast upstarts like Bounce TV — now offer scripted comedies, dramas and documentaries; reality programming; music fare; and vintage content for all to see. That includes long blocks of Soul Train featuring performances from such stars as Al Green, Aretha Franklin and the late, great Whitney Houston.

More is coming down the pike. Comcast still has yet to reveal the two African-American owned-and-operated channels it plans to launch in 2013, while Byron Allen’s Legacy.TV and veteran cable executive Curtis Symonds’ HBCU Net look to get up and running this year. On the broadcast side, Kin TV and Soul of the South look to reach black viewers via broadcast multicast channels.

Other entertainment moguls such as Magic Johnson, P Diddy, Tyler Perry, Pharrell Williams, Bill Cosby and Whoopi Goldberg have been rumored to be kicking the cable tires in preparation for their own potential networks.

The hope is that these channels will provide viewers with unique, differentiated, original content that supplements the classic TV shows and movies that currently make up a much the networks’ schedules.

If not, alternative distribution platforms on the Web are gearing up to fill the void for original and creative video content produced by and starring African-Americans.

That in itself would help build on Cornelius’ trailblazing legacy, and would help secure more diverse TV programming for the next generation of viewers.