Drama Rates With African-Americans

A recent spate of dramas featuring African- Americans in lead roles has generated big ratings numbers for networks and has reeled in significant black viewership.

The Fox broadcast network’s music-themed series Empire averaged 11.3 million viewers for its Jan. 28 episode, up nearly 2 million viewers from the 9.9 million drawn to the series premiere on Jan. 7, according to Nielsen.

Empire, starring Terrance Howard and Taraji P. Henson as music moguls, was the second most watched show among African-American viewers the week of Jan. 26-Feb. 2 behind only NBC’s Super Bowl coverage, said Nielsen.

During the same week on cable, OWN’s The Haves and the Have Nots was the most-watched show among African-American viewers, with BET’s The Game finishing fifth on the list. BET’s sophomore drama series Being Mary Jane debuted last Tuesday (Feb. 3) to 2.3 million viewers, above the series premiere number last year and setting the stage for a finish among the most-watched series in African-American homes during its winter run. Last week it was renewed for a third go-round, as well.

Other drama series with predominately African- American casts, such as Starz’s Power, have also drawn large black viewership. The series, about James “Ghost” St. Patrick, a club owner and drug kingpin, averaged an African- American audience penetration of 71%, the most of any scripted series on a premium network since HBO’s The Wire in 2006.

OWN co-president Erik Logan said the dramas are reaching an underserved audience looking to see themselves in more dramatic roles. The network last said it will develop a new drama series Queen Sugar, featuring OWN CEO Oprah Winfrey in a recurring role and produced by Selma director Ava DuVernay.

“There are characters there that achieve a level of mirror reflection of what’s happening in the community and the culture today,” Logan said.

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.