Newsweek's Samuels: Why Hasn't Hollywood Drawn Inspiration from the Obamas?

According to Newsweek's Allison Samuels, American TV audiences are not "ready for 'super-negros' on the small screen."

Samuels made her complaint in light of NBC's cancellation of it's ratings-plagued spy series, "Undercovers," which featured a black actor and actress in the lead roles as glamorous and deadly CIA agents:

And that’s exactly what Undercovers was: a show about black people doing very “unblack” things. Before anyone gets upset, let me explain. “Super-negro” was a term my family often used while watching old Sidney Poitier movies back in the day. In Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (our favorite), Poitier portrays a black doctor in love with a white, wealthy young socialite during the ’60s. Pretty early in the film, you begin to realize that Poitier’s character is not just any black doctor (an accomplishment in itself for most people then, and now); he’s a black doctor with degrees from several Ivy League universities, an internationally known scholar behind cures of dozens of diseases in Africa and elsewhere. Overkill.


Fast-forward 40 years, and it’s plain to see that Hollywood still hasn’t figured out a way to move beyond that absurd premise. It still can’t just fit us in.

Of course, between NBC's "Chuck," and USA Network's "Burn Notice" and "Covert Affairs," it's possible that TV audiences today feel oversaturated with spy-centered offerings on the small screen, but Samuels failed to consider that point.

The Newsweek writer went on to complain that Hollywood hasn't been inspired by President Obama and the First Lady to look into doing a TV comedy or drama focused on ordinary black Americans:

Not since the The Cosby Show has prime time successfully delivered a show featuring African-Americans leading normal, regular, everyday lives. That show was groundbreaking because it featured us as mothers, daughters, fathers, and sons. Can you name another show like that on the air right now? Not unless you count Tyler Perry’s TBS comedies—but it’s never been an issue for mainstream audiences to laugh at us. The same thing is true of the Chris Rock series Everyone Loves Chris, which enjoyed some success but is no longer on the air, or the cartoon The Cleveland Show. The brilliance of The Cosby Show was that while funny, it also changed the cultural landscape. It presented African-Americans in an entirely different and new context. It moved beyond the stereotypes of the inner city, jail cells, and basketball courts to present a more well-rounded look at who we are.


Somehow, I foolishly thought the election of the first African-American president would foster more interest in those types of African-American stories. Whatever anyone thinks of President Obama today, he and his wife Michelle’s story of true love, family, and achievement is a fascinating tale with a very unexpected and ongoing twist. I was sure their example alone would inspire networks, producers, and writers to burst at the seams with ideas for shows depicting typical African-American couples and families. I was wrong. Unfortunately, NBC miscalculated as well. They expected the prime-time audience to accept African-Americans in extraordinary roles like Undercovers before really having had much of a chance to see us as ordinary people first.

Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd is the Managing Editor for NewsBusters