Scripted Shows Shine Spotlight on Sisterhood

Starz’s Run the World follows the lives and ambitions of 30-something young Harlemites.
(Image credit: © 2020 Starz Entertainment, LLC)

Black women may not run the world yet, but they are certainly making their mark in several scripted series that explore the complexities of female friendships. 

In Starz’s new series Run The World, BET’s veteran show Sistas and BET Plus’s First Wives Club, with ABC’s series reboot of Waiting to Exhale in the offing, the camaraderie between girlfriends seems to be appealing to all viewers. 

“Black women continue to occupy an important and seminal space in culture, and our point of view is unique but also universal in terms of our struggles and our stories,” BET scripted programming head Traci Blackwell said. “Your sistagirl group is usually one of the most important relationships in your life, and I think those stories continue to be relevant to audiences.”

While the genre is not new — 1990s broadcast TV shows Girlfriends and Living Single were successful in exploring the dynamics of Black female friendships — Starz president of original programming Christina Davis said this new wave of shows goes more in-depth into not only the relationships themselves, but the culture which influences the character storylines. Davis said Starz’s Run the World, which launched last month and follows four 30-something, professional Black female friends as they deal with career and relationship challenges, incorporates the rich culture, sights and sounds of Harlem as an important backdrop for the storyline.

“You can point to a couple of shows that have scratched the surface, but I think we go deeper than anything that we’ve seen before,” she said. “I also think the appetite for such shows is overwhelming in a great way.” 

BET’s Sistas, produced by Tyler Perry, returned for its third season June 9 having averaged a network-high 1.4 million total viewers on a Nielsen Live-Plus-3 basis during its second season. The series follows a group of single Black women as they navigate their career, friendships and relationship goals. 

Shows like Sistas and First Wives Club, a takeoff on the 1996 movie that’s now in its second season, serve as a window into lives of diverse female relationships that aren’t often represented on television, according to Blackwell.

Other scripted series, like HBO’s Insecure and OWN’s Delilah, explore the bonds between Black female friends as part of broader storylines within the show. But executives say the overarching theme of maintaining that close and often unbreakable bond — even as it’s tested in a variety of ways — resonates with viewers. 

“I think television owes it to the viewers to give back to them moments of their own lives,” said Craig Wright, creator of Delilah, which examines the strength of a long friendship between two lawyers even as they face off in court. “It’s the lived moments that make viewers say that’s just like what happened to me or she’s just like my sister or friend.” 

The genre doesn’t show signs of slowing down: ABC has given a script commitment to Waiting to Exhale, a reboot of the 1995 Lee Daniels film that starred Whitney Houston, Angela Bassett, Lela Rochon and Loretta Devine. BET’s Blackwell says shows examining the complexities of friendships between women will always find an audience on television. 

“For women, and particularly Black women, relationships, family, raising kids, dating challenges, religion and spirituality are all things that touch the group in really interesting ways in terms of how we relate,” she said. “The story of that female bond continues to be really important and feels relatable to all of us.” 

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.