Mary, Mary and Niecy Nash hint at latest trend in cable TV: Series targeting black women
You know all those so-called reality TV shows where women are drinking, fighting and pulling each other’s hair over everything?
Niecy Nash wants you to know that her new unscripted show has one thing in common with all those shout-and-fight-fests:
It stars a woman.
“I didn’t think I was a good fit for reality television, because, you know, the nature of it right now is so combative and volatile,” said Nash, (Reno 911, Dancing with the Stars) whose unscripted comedy series Leave It to Niecy, premiered Sunday at 10 p.m. on TLC. “I’m a lover, not a fighter….If you want to take a break from seeing somebody get slapped in the mouth, you can watch Leave It to Niecy.”
But Nash’s show may also be the tip of a tantalizing trend, as a small but growing number of cable channels develop TV series starring and targeting African American women, who have emerged as an increasingly sought-after viewership group.
On female-centered cable channel WE Tv, African-American gospel duo Mary, Mary debuts their self-titled, unscripted show at 10 tonight, airing just behind the season finale of the channel’s most successful series, Braxton Family Values. The Braxton show, centered on the drama among R&B singer Toni Braxton’s mother and sisters, draws nearly 1-million viewers weekly – 88 percent of whom are black.
The channel already has announced plans to turn its Thursday night over to programming focused on black women, with a June 7 debut planned for Hair Divas: Hollywood, an unscripted show focused on Beyonce and Mary J. Blige hairstylist Kim Kimble. And it’s ordered eight episodes of Tamar and Vince, a Braxton Family Values spin off starring Braxton’s sister Tamar, who is developing a solo singing career.
“Once (Braxton Family Values) hit the air, it became clear people related to relationship between the sisters; it wasn’t just about Toni, it was about the sisterhood,” said WE tv president Kim Martin, noting the channel has committed the next 18 months of Thursdays to such series. “What we realized, is African American women are an underserved audience. But we’re also programming to women across America who are putting family at the center of their lives.”
Martin’s take isn’t an unusual one, said R. Thomas Umstead, who covers multicultural issues for the industry trade magazine Multichannel News. Umstead wrote about the trend toward targeting black women in November, noting that channels such as the religious and family-friendly network GMC have begun “quietly” creating original, black-centered gospel plays filmed for television, developing the same kinds of stage productions which originally made Tyler Perry a brand name in African American households.
But some channels are wary of being pidgeonholed as solely black-centered platforms, even as they reach out to the new audience, Umstead said.
“They realize there’s an audience out there of black women who are becoming more affluent, more educated and heading up more households than ever before,” he added (ratings company Nielsen issued a report in September noting $1-trillion in buying power among black households, where women increasingly control purchases). “They’re the ones paying cable bills, going shopping buying clothes…It’s a perfect storm for the advertiser if they know how to reach them.”
Already, channels such as TBS, VH1 and Bravo have done well with black female viewers, with shows such as Tyler Perry’s House of Payne, Basketball Wives, and the Real Housewives of Atlanta.
And some channels which primarily target black women, such as TV One, wonder if their new competition will stay devoted to the audience they are courting.
“They’ve discovered what we already know; African American women watch more television than any other demographic group,” said Wonya Lucas, TV One president. “Many of these network have targeted women for years, but never really paid any attention to African American women. I’m not sure they totally understand the African American female viewer.”
Nash said her show might not completely fit the trend, because she starred in a wedding special for TLC in June which drew nearly 5-million viewers --more than Mad Men's return, Sunday -- prompting the channel to suggest a “docu-sitcom” based on watching her new husband and his son join her three daughters and mother under the same roof.
Still, she understands why black women may flock to shows starring women who look like them.
“If you don’t see yourself, you’re hungry to find women who you identify with,” Nash said. “You know, the Brady Bunch was a TV show…my dog pees on your feet, my momma’s in the mix and my kids, my stepson…it’s a cornucopia of foolishness, but its what we got 'ta work with.”