CBS Television Distribution swings deal for off-network African-American sitcoms to Netflix

“Girlfriends” ran from 2000 to 2008 on UPN and later The CW and is part of Netflix streaming deal.

Numerous off-network sitcoms are receiving a second life thanking to the proliferation of streaming service, reconnecting viewers with past laughs.

But not all sitcoms have shared in the streaming fortune. Some off-sitcoms – mainly targeted to Black audiences, have been left out despite the fact those shows being were quite popular in the 1990s and 2000s.

But all of that is changing because last week, CBS Television Distribution and Netflix announced a seven-show deal, featuring numerous sitcoms with Black casts that aired on the former WB and UPN networks.

Here’s the list as follows and their debuts on Netflix:

Moesha, now available; debuted August 1

The Game, August 16 (first three seasons only)

– Sister, Sister, September 1

– Girlfriends, September 11

– The Parkers, October 1

– Half and Half and One on One, October 15

Of these, Sister Sister had a short run on ABC’s TGIF lineup before moving to The WB. Meanwhile, The Game features only the first three seasons that aired on The CW, and does not include the BET episodes (the entire run is still airing on local stations, at least until September.)

The acquisition of the programs from CBS is part of Netflix’s Strong Black Lead initiative, whose “goal of Strong Black Lead is to celebrate and lift up Black Hollywood. These trailblazing shows are a huge part of that story,” said Netflix Manager of Content Acquisition’s Bradley Edwards and Strong Black Lead manager Jasmyn Lawson. “These shows made us laugh, and cry, and sing along with those catchy theme songs. And most importantly, we felt like we saw ourselves on screen – in some cases for the very first time.”

The news comes as there has been controversy regarding the lack of presence of these shows – all ran in off-network broadcast syndication for years and later on several basic cable networks. But their visibility has diminished over the years – for one Bounce, a diginet targeting African-American viewers between 25 and 54, have banished most of their sitcom reruns into weekend morning time slots.

The former WB and UPN networks targeted African-American viewers with these shows, serving an underserved audience neglected by other broadcasters. But the genre started drying up in 2006 when both networks merged together to form The CW, who opted to center their network on shows about teenagers and young adults living it up in posh places such as Beverly Hills and Manhattan. By the time Girlfriends was canceled by The CW in 2008, the network was left with just two shows with Black casts (The Game and Everybody Hates Chris, which is not part of this deal.) After the duo were canceled a year later, many African-American viewers shifted to cable networks.

Though less pronounced now, television viewing was quite segregated when The WB and UPN were around, with the twenty most-watched shows in white households differing tremendously from the most-watched show in Black households with ABC’s Monday Night Football as the only program to show up on both lists. For example, while programs such as Moesha, The Jamie Foxx Show, and The Wayans Bros. were popular in black homes, shows with white casts such as Friends and Seinfeld barely registered. The reverse was true in white households.

And those tensions bubbled up last year when Friends’ David Schwimmer didn’t exactly acknowledge Living Single’s existence, and the show’s co-star Erika Alexander called him out. 

The move to make these shows for streaming is a good move, as many of these sitcoms haven’t been seen in years after linear TV partners gave up on them. There are several Black-casted sitcoms still not available for streaming: Fox’s Martin and The WB’s Foxx and Wayans (all Warner Bros. shows), among others. But at least it’s a start.

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