I spend quite a bit of time running in and out of “30 Rock,” the headquarters for NBC. The last time I went through the studio, I couldn’t help but notice that there were quite a few black people staring at me. They were not real human beings actually, just photographs of them. One was a larger-than-life picture of Blair Underwood, the actor who stars in the new NBC show, ‘The Event.’ There was also Boris Kodjoe, the man who will always be about 8,000 times better looking than I am. In case you’re wondering if I am jealous, the answer is a resounding “yes.” I am a officially a serious ‘hater.’
I was impressed that NBC made such a massive investment in two shows featuring prominent African American men. I was hopeful that this would continue the trend toward something big. The buzz around the shows in the black community was deafening, and I especially noticed a great deal of discussion surrounding Kodjoe’s new show.
You can imagine how surprised I was to find out that NBC cancelled Kodjoe’s show this week. Before you could say the words, “What’s this show about?” They yanked it out from under him, like a skateboard being pulled from under an 8-year old kid. Just as quickly as his career shot through the roof, it suddenly went from 60 to zero in 10 seconds flat.
I’ve never understood these networks and their inability to even give a show a chance before they kill it. I was speaking last night to an actress from the TV series “Soul Food” (Malinda Williams, who played “Bird”) at our event on black relationships at Columbia University. One of the interesting points Malinda made during our conversation is that there does not appear to be much space for black actors and actresses to express their talents. I personally mentioned how I love seeing Tyler Perry create opportunities for African American actors and actresses that they would normally never receive. I am most appreciative of the fact that these opportunities aren’t going to be taken away from the actors in just a couple of weeks. Concepts need time to develop.
The career path of the black actor or actress is not for the faint of heart. You’re at the top of the world one minute, and on the chitlin circuit the next. Rather than simply developing more black folks who are able to provide the on screen talent, we should also develop those who can provide the behind-the-scenes talent, like producing, directing, etc. Most importantly, we must find additional mechanisms to open doors for the financing and distribution of African American films. If we are the ones providing the money to get movies made, we can then become the ones who green light our own ideas. That would allow good black productions to properly and patiently evolve, and create more sustainable opportunities for talented black actors like Boris Kodjoe.
I didn’t get a chance to watch ‘Undercovers’ before it was cancelled. Now I’m glad I didn’t. Right after I’d invested the emotionally energy necessary to become connected to the characters, the show would have been gone. I won’t get so excited the next time something else comes out, since I just don’t want to get my hopes up.
Boyce Watkins, PhD