Soul Food For The Eyes

Iconic African-American-targeted shows from the 70s and 80s are finding their way back to the small screen as TV executives look to target an audience that’s watching more television than any viewer group.

History last week said it will look to resurrect ABC’s breakthrough mini-series Roots. Published reports say History — which drew big audiences for it’s The Bible miniseries last March — is planning to develop an eight-episode version of the 1977 Emmy award-winning miniseries based on Alex Haley’s famed novel about the experiences of a multigenerational African-American family beginning with its time in slavery and ending several decades later.

Starz in December will include 70s and 80s African-American- based sitcoms as part of its rebranded Encore Black channel (formerly Encore Drama). Viewers will be able to see commercial-free episodes of such series as Diff’rent Strokes, 227 and Amen alongside such classic movies as Carmen Jones, A Soldier’s Story and New Jack City.

Next year NBC is going to resurrect “the hippest trip in America” — the tagline for iconic music/ dance series Soul Train. Actor/producer Nick Cannon will helm the new version of Soul Train, which originally launched in 1971 as the brainchild of late TV executive Don Cornelius and aired in syndication for more than 30 years.

The projects join a handful of current cable projects targeted to African-American audiences and featuring predominantly black casts.

The increased focus on attracting African- American viewers is not surprising: They have a current buying power of $1 trillion that is forecasted to reach $1.3 trillion dollars by 2017, according to a September Nielsen report. Further, African-Americans watch 37% more television than any other group, Nielsen said.

TV’s nostalgic trip through classic African-American content is not so much an ode to the past, but — combined with an increase in new, original projects — a smart investment in its future by reaching out to an important and influential audience segment.

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.