Gossett: Nets Need Courage To Bring More African-American Stories To TV

Many TV critics say we are in a Golden Age of Television, given the incredible amount of quality, original programming that’s available on traditional TV and digital media.

The same can be said of the strong lineup of programming featuring predominantly African-American actors and actresses. From Fox’s Empire to Starz’s Power to OWN’s The Have and the Have Nots to BET’s Being Mary Jane, the quality and quantity of content targeting African-American audiences is arguably at an all-time high.

Veteran Academy Award- and Emmy Award-winning actor Lou Gossett believes the entertainment industry is at the cusp of a major explosion in the production and dissemination of African-American-themed content. Gossett, who is starring in BET’s inaugural mini-series, The Book of Negroes, airing Feb. 16-18, recently spoke with me about the opportunities now available for African-Americans to tell their stories on the small screen.

TU: How important is BET’s The Book of Negroes in terms of bringing awareness to African-American themed stories?

LouGossett: A lot of people think BET’s The Book of Negroes is a courageous project, but I think it’s necessary to tell this story. Now you have the attention of the industry – now millions of people have an opportunity to see [the mini-series] and what’s on BET.

TU: How do we get more of these stories on the air?

LG: BET has the responsibility to tell other stories since they’ve started with The Book of Negroes. The industry also has to have the courage to continue to raise the bar to finally tell our stories.  We have the Renaissance to do, we have the cowboys to do, we have the soldiers to do, we have jazz to do … it’s never going to be over.

TU: Are you encouraged by the number of outlets that are in the cable and broadcast space targeting African-American audiences?

LG: That’s healthy competition … [they’ll say,] you guys are going to do that, so we’re going to do this [subject]. That competition benefits everyone. What happens in the home now is that African-Americans especially can ask what’s on BET, what’s on TV One, what’s on Centric … and those networks become competitive in trying to serve that audience.

TU: Do the mainstream entertainment networks also have to step up and start creating more shows that reflect African-American images and stories for those messages to reach a broader audience?

LG: BET is already competitive with those networks, and if it continues to fill its responsibility to tell those stories, then [viewers will watch].

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.