OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network tonight (May 12) launches the second season of its successful documentary series Black Love, which takes an unflinching and honest look inside African-American marriages.
The series’ first season debuted last fall with 1.2 million total viewers, becoming OWN’s most-watched unscripted series debut in network history and its highest-rated unscripted series debut in more than four years in the network’s key female 25-54 year-old demo.
Black Love creators and executive producers Codie Elaine Oliver and Tommy Oliver (The Perfect Guy) recently spoke to me about the success of the show’s freshman run and their expectations for the upcoming season, which will feature such celebrity couples as Emmy Award-winning actor Sterling K. Brown and wife Ryan Michelle Bathe; Emmy Award-winning actress Niecy Nash and husband Jay Tucker; and NBA All-Star Grant Hill and Grammy-nominated recording artist Tamia.
What was your inspiration to create the show?
Tommy Oliver: Part of it was so much of what we seen on reality and scripted TV is an incredibly poor rendering of black families and black married families in particular. For us, we knew that there was information and images that we wanted to see, and we assumed that many other people wanted to see it as well. Most TV is generated by ratings and advertising, so drama and sensationalism tend to do well. Beyond that, it comes down to the people who are creating the content and have the ability to greenlight content. When you are not a part of the decision-making process, you don’t have the ability to really inform what you see and shape the narrative, and a lot of that is why we end up with these poor renderings [of black marriages] that are dangerous to the psyche of folks who want to get married, or want to see themselves and the aspirational elements of what they are endeavoring toward.
Were you surprised at the success of the first season of Black Love?
TO: Yes. We suspected that people would be excited about seeing wholesome content and seeing us in that light, but to see how much people responded emotionally and how much it seemed to resonate with people certainly exceeded our hopes and expectations.
What is the secret sauce behind the success of the show?
Codie Elaine Oliver: First, I think that there was just a lack of this kind of programming in the marketplace, so when something doesn’t exist, people are very appreciative and excited about it, and want to take part in the experience. Add to that the mix of regular [married] folks who were just like us as well as [married] celebrities -- all of whom were treated the same. We don’t include last names or professions; we just wanted to highlight Viola and Julius or Andre and Latoya as happy, loving couples just as you or me, or -- if you’re a single person watching – you may want to be because it is so aspirational. So the secret to the sauce was making it as relatable as possible by showing people as they are, talking about their highs and their lows.
What should audiences expect to see from the second season?
CEO: Structurally it’s the same in terms of interweaving different couples’ stories – there are new themes and questions, but we also use some of the old themes. How love begins is really important to us to make sure we’re showing the romantic starts -- or the false starts -- to how couples find each other.
TO: We deal with other subjects that we didn’t really get into in season one. While we dealt with infidelity in season one, it was exclusively from the male side. This time we have a woman who cheated on her husband, and another who had an emotional affair. So much of what we explore in the show comes from our couples. We don’t go in with a theme or thread in mind, but we talk to them and figure out what they went through, and then we figure out how to put the best episodes together.
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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.