Two years ago, CNN aired an eight-part series “The History of the Sitcom.” Now, it’s digging deep into Black TV.
The five-part series, dubbed “See It Loud: The History of Black Television,” debuts Sunday July 9th at 9 p.m. starting with sitcoms such as “Good Times,” “The Cosby Show,” “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air,” “Family Matters” and “Insecure.”
The weekly docuseries over the next month will then touch on variety and stand-up comedy, drama, reality TV and science fiction. The producers spoke to more than 120 people including Gabrielle Union, Ben Vereen, Debbie Allen, Sherri Shepherd, Tatyana Ali, Blair Underwood, Anika Noni Rose, Tisha Campbell and Vivica A. Fox.
Atlantans and Atlanta natives such as Mo’Nique, Omari Hardwick, Kandi Burruss and Cynthia Bailey are included as well.
“For me, it was a labor of love, and I enjoyed every second of it,” said Atlanta-based Emmy-winning producer Jodi Gomes. who was director and showrunner. “It was easy to book because a lot of people in Black Hollywood had never been given the mic before to actually speak the truth on our history and our future at the same time. It was also a nice tapestry of people from yesterday and today.”
One of Gomes’ favorite sources of insight was Jimmie Walker, the stand-up comic and star of “Good Times.” His “Dyno-mite” saying was both a “gift and a curse,” she said. “It was obviously a big deal for him to become a big TV star, but he also had to deal with criticism that he was a sell-out. He had worked with the Black Panthers and Martin Luther King Jr., so this was hurtful for him.”
Courtney Whitaker, senior manager of The SpringHill Company of unscripted and documentary, said viewers may not fully appreciate how massive the unscripted lane is. “They may think of reality TV but it’s the power of the talk landscape and Oprah Winfrey that really changed the game,” she said.
Gomes said the most insightful episode for her was the one focused on horror and science fiction because Black people were largely under-represented in this genre until the past few years.
“We now have Captain America played by Anthony Mackie,” she said. “It’s been quite a journey.”
One of the trickiest segments was discussing the huge impact of “The Cosby Show” while also addressing the misdeeds of Bill Cosby himself, who was accused by more than 50 women of sexual misconduct, accusations he has denied.
“For me as a woman, it was very challenging, but we needed to confront it head on,” Gomes said. “His legacy is always going to be great in this industry. The question is how do you separate the man from the mischief. How do you separate what he did vs. the doors he opened. We left that to the audience to decide.”
Gomes said given all the turmoil happening at CNN while she was producing “See It Loud,” she was grateful the series made it on air at all.
“This could have been either ‘The Love Boat’ or the ‘Titanic’ for us,” Gomes said. “Creatively, we were able to stick with the plan we started with. It sat on the shelf a little longer than it should have, but I’m thankful we made it here. A lot of series got dropped, but we survived.”