Valentine’s Day is over, but romance-themed shows featuring African-American leads are blossoming on cable and subscription video-on-demand platforms.
Programming executives said shows like OWN’s scripted show Cherish the Day, as well as unscripted program Black Love and Urban Movie Channel’s scripted Stuck With You, offer African-American viewers authentic portrayals of relationships that have been rare on the small screen.
“I think the whole love and marriage/black love concept is going to start showing up a lot more, because there is such an opportunity to show black people in love on television,” Cheryl Grace, Nielsen’s senior VP of U.S. strategic community alliances and consumer engagement, said. “It’s trending now and you’ll see a lot more in the future.”
While the genre found a home in film during the late 1990s and early 2000s with such movies as Love & Basketball, Love Jones and Poetic Justice, there have been few television shows depicting African-American couples in romantic relationships.
Nostalgia for those popular 1990s films served helped to inspire Cherish the Day, executive producer Ava DuVernay told writers during January’s TCA Winter Press Tour. She said she wanted to bring similar stories to the small screen.
“I just longed to see that kind of black love story on television,” she said. “All of our collaborators just embraced that with a sense of joy about exploring black love, which is something we don’t feel we see hardly enough.”
Each episode in the eight-part series represents a day in the life of a couple. Its Feb. 11 premiere drew nearly 1 million viewers, making it cable’s the top-rated show among African-American women and among total viewers in its 10 p.m. time slot, Nielsen reported.
“In all of our dramas, there is some notion of love and romance … and I think that Ava’s new show, Cherish the Day, is going to be an even louder call than anything we’ve had to date,” OWN president Tina Perry said. “[DuVernay] is showing for the first time in a very intimate, one-on-one way black love in all of its beauty, nuances and challenges.”
Streaming service UMC’s original dramedy Stuck With You follows the behind-the-scenes ups and downs of a celebrity couple. “Stuck With You is the perfect blend of comedy and relationships drama,” UMC chief content officer Brett Dismuke said. “Our original shows like Stuck With You and [Craig Ross Jr.’s Monogamy] pluck at the emotional heartstrings of the viewers.”
OWN’s Perry said African-American viewers are hungry for content that reflects their lives and images, and relationship-themed content has always resonated with the audience. The network had earlier renewed four unscripted relationship-themed shows, including Black Love, in which real couples open up about the realities of love, marriage and romance in the African-American community.
“As African-American viewers and consumers, we are really ready to see black love on TV in a really direct and intimate way,” Perry said. “I think [DuVernay’s Cherish the Day] will amplify a message and a mission that we’ve been on for years, and I think the viewers are absolutely going to love it.”