Big Time On The Small Screen - Page 4 of 6

Big Time On The Small Screen

and that’s a form of entertainment,” Gaither asserts.

Turner cites an additional challenge for African Americans looking to work behind the scenes. Many parents, she says, believe creative fields are less respectable career paths. Working in a mailroom at a talent agency or movie studio after college or law school is not something most parents, particularly African Americans, see as a noble pursuit. But that’s what many aspiring writers, executives, and agents must do to get in the business, says Turner. “You have to have access to people who are matriculating through the system and you must be willing to pour coffee or whatever. I was only making $250 [per week] after college and had to live with my grandparents, but I was in the mix.”

Turner and other industry insiders suggest that many African Americans cannot afford or are not willing to do the entry level jobs required of people looking to break into Hollywood. “Coming out of college, you will not be hired as a staff writer on a show. You must start at the bottom in this business,” she says. That goes for every area of the business. Turner cites William Morris agent Charles King who started in the mailroom after graduating from Howard University Law School as his classmates headed to law firms. “You have to be willing to sacrifice,” she says.

In the meantime, others are making a name for themselves within the realm of network television’s biggest rival: cable TV. Showtime is responsible for Soul Food, the only African American drama on TV, and network executives are teaming up with Spike Lee to produce Sucker Free City, a drama about San Francisco street gangs. HBO has produced award-winning projects about African Americans like The Corner, and USA Networks finalized a deal with actor Ving Rhames, who plans to star in a remake of the popular ’70s detective show Kojak.

Kelly Goode, senior vice president of programming for Lifetime, was part of a team responsible for getting a number of series green-lighted, including Strong Medicine, a show executive produced by Goldberg. And Goode plans to continue to increase racial diversity on Lifetime. “It’s always a priority for me personally and for Lifetime,” says Goode, who mentions 1-800-Missing, a show executive produced by Debra Martin Chase, as an example of shows with strong black involvement. “This is a great time in cable. It’s the next wave, with the most opportunities in front of and behind the camera.”

And with the TV One and Radio One, the cable world is perhaps better positioned to offer opportunities for African Americans than network TV, provided they offer original programming. That’s exactly what MBC Network, a black-owned cable channel, is planning to do. According to Executive Vice President of Operations Travis Mitchell, MBC will offer original movies, sitcoms, and dramas by 2006.

Another argument for African American advancement in cable TV is one of the few African Americans with the power to get a show produced and aired comes courtesy of VH1 (which is owned