ABC Family recently renewed drama series Lincoln Heights for a fourth season. The show trails only Showtime's Soul Food and HBO's The Wire as TV's longest-running drama series with a predominately African-American cast. Lincoln Heights producer Kathleen McGhee-Anderson recently talked to Multichannel News programming editor R. Thomas Umstead about the show's success, as well as its significance in bringing multicultural images to the small screen. An edited transcript of the interview follows:
Q: How important a move was the renewal of Lincoln Heights with regards to multicultural images on television?
A: It means everything. It's a validation of the show's ability to deliver an audience -- it's got a monetary aspect to it which shows that we're doing good business. Not only am I telling stories that I think should be out there and that are relevant and unique, but being renewed for another year means that we're doing something right with this business model.
Q: Do you think the success of Lincoln Heights will spur the development of other multicultural-based drama shows?
A: I already hear that there are some half-dozen pilots in development featuring African-American main casts and African-American families. I'm happy to know that there will be shows in our likeness because that's the whole point. It opens up this whole terrain that leads to [television] becoming truly reflective of our culture and the authenticity of the African-American experience in this day and age, and not as seen through the prism of the narrow focus that has characterized television for so long.
Q: Would a show like Lincoln Heights have thrived if were on a broadcast network and not on cable and ABC Family?
A: I think ABC Family was ahead of the curve in terms of adapting a multicultural approach that has always been the hallmark and focal point of Lincoln Heights. Even though we have an African-American main cast, the communities around us -- including the kids in school and the neighborhood itself -- are all reflective of a diverse landscape which, prior to [President Barack] Obama's election was not the norm or was not valued as much within entertainment circles. ABC Family embraced that more than three years ago when they launched the show, which went against the prevailing wisdom in Hollywood among television executives that a show with a predominately African-American cast could not succeed.
Q: With a fourth season under your belt, are you already thinking ahead toward another fifth season?
A: When I came on board I was thinking "let's get through one season, cross our fingers and maybe if we're lucky get a second season.' Now here we are going into a fourth season with the hopes for a fifth season. We have very strong viewership in all demographics in terms of age and ethnicity. We've been able to draw some of the top African-American directors to the show (Juice director Ernest Dickerson recently won a NAACP Image Award for directing a Lincoln Heights episode). We may not pay as much as some other shows do, but we still have A-list directors across the board and they all come back.
Never in the history of television has there been a longer running African-American family-based drama. There's no limit to the range of stories we can tell because this is such untapped terrain.