Death of two black comedy shows says more about TV than race
My pal David Zurawick, the most-excellent TV critic at the Baltimore Sun, raises a question on his blog that got me thinking a bit. With the recent death of CNN's D.L. Hughley Breaks the News and Comedy Central's Chocolate News, does this indicate an unwillingness to laugh at race-based humor in the age of Obama?
Gotta say, doesn't feel that way to me.
First, I'm not sure its wise to lump both shows together. Hughley's show died, in part, because it was awful. He's a pretty good comic with some interesting takes on politics and news, but that doesn't add up to the kind of sharp, insightful satire that can regularly power a series like he attempted.
The other reason Breaks the News failed is because it was a fish out of water -- a comedy show on a news network airing at a time when no one but inmates and shut-ins actually watch the channel. I think early versions of Keith Olbermann's Countdown were a better example of how a news channel could be both informative and funny.
The failure of David Alan Grier's Chocolate News is a different story. Here, I think the show failed because it couldn't really find an audience. it wasn't hip enough to draw the young white guys who are Comedy Central's traditional viewers, and it wasn't strong enough with black viewers to overcome that deficit.
The other nail in Chocolate News' coffin was the much more popular show which recently filled its timeslot. Important Things with Demetri Martin. The hidden truth about some black-centered comedy shows, is that they succeed by drawing hip, young white people -- the force that really made successes of programs by Dave Chapelle and Chris Rock.
But Martin's show has been much more successful in tapping that demographic, so Chocolate News' already dim future was snuffed by his strong debut.
To answer David's first question, I think we're going to need some better examples than Breaks the News and Chocolate News. Larry Wilmore, The Daily Show's Senior Black Correspondent, has a show under development for HBO about a self-centered cable news anchor; maybe that project will show if we can find the courage to laugh about race in a way that will make President Obama and Eric Holder proud.