Really enjoyed this, Karen! I didn’t know too much about Sherman-Palladino as a figure and showrunner before, strangely enough, although I recalled the slight feud with Shonda Rhimes in my post later this week. Gilmore Girls has a really interesting industry history to me because of the network switch up you’ve mentioned. Although for many, it was those syndicated reruns on ABC Family that we most relate GG back to. And the showrunner’s construction and identity of her biggest characters will likely be implanted into her principal actors for the remainder of their careers. Lauren Graham’s character on Parenthood to me is very much like Lorelai, which is kind of great. And I think Alexis Bledel’s stint on Mad Men was also excellent, because how could we ever not think of her as Rory even after all these years? That made her affair with Pete Campbell all the more shocking, the cherub-like Rory with one of the most loathed characters in TV history. Then there’s Matt Czuchry as Cary Agos on The Good Wife, pretty fitting. I only watched the pilot episode of Bunheads, and it didn’t really resonate with me. It would be interesting to do a fan studies on the two shows and their audiences, to see how much of the GG diehards also still tune in, or if it’s more for the next generation of TV audiences. Unlike a showrunner like Rhimes, whose series all premiered or were on the air around the same time, the time lapse with Bunheads starting 5 years after GG’s series finale must be significant. Thanks again and looking forward to the rest of the week!
PS: I’ve just learned after a quick catch up with Bledel that she’s actually half Argentinean and half Mexican, and considers herself Latina. Super interesting.
I’d argue these niche networks are, in some ways, taking risks, but they’re taking said risks with white writers/producers. Particularly if we look at TVOne, they took a chance with Belle’s (which they also recently cancelled), but did so with the white producer who was most “famous” for his work on Taxi and The Cosby Show. It seems that the industrial logic only allows POC to produce content that closely mirrors the successful content that has come before it.
I share your ambivalence about Rae’s new gig. I believe most of her fans see her as a writer-producer in the vein of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, but a big part of the problem is the regular buyers of black content — BET, TVOne, TBS, OWN, Centric — have not been empowered by their conglomerate parents to take risks and really invest in writerly series (what relationships do the studios supplying them with shows have with the WGA?). “The Real Househusbands of Hollywood” pretty much sums it up for me. At the same time Rae would fit right into FX and Comedy Central, if only those execs had the vision.
Is there any hope either of these sides of the market will open up and seriously invest in production from people of color?
Thanks for this Ralina! This is probably my favorite episode of the series and one I show in class. I think it’s a smart episode for many of the reasons you stated but in particular because it deals with racial difference in a way that is honest (and, yes, awkward) but not “heavy.” When talking with industry folks about why race isn’t dealt with more, many of them talk about how race is heavy like a yoke on the neck. But what I love about this episode is how it’s the opposite of heavy—it’s funny and crude and smart.
Al, lovely thoughts! I think you’re absolutely right about how and what can be played to a mainstream audience. From what video I could find, Issa didn’t even know if she would be in IHLAD or if they would even cast a Black woman in the lead role. This is the sacrifice of her “universal” claims. Universal means interchangeable and palatable and ABG ain’t that.
Although, somehow Lena Dunham’s Girls is. (Yeah, I went there.)
Gates, nicely done! I think you bring up a good piece with the slipperiness of how Rae uses “awkward” as both simultaneously universal and specific. The lengths that she endures to sell the story as something about a Black girl whose personality falls in line with popular mainstream characters on Parks and Rec or Curb Your Enthusiasm is some serious labor. And I agree with you that the universality of “awkward” limits the types of specific types of representations that could fit under that banner rendering it a positive attribute as opposed to a political statement of sorts.
Thanks for the post Ralina. I love the way this week’s post have come together to discuss the ways in which ABG and Issa Rae, as its producer/creator, are concomitantly racially specific and universal. Is part of the reason the series has enjoyed so much success that it is able to, in some ways, do what The Cosby Show did — make white viewers “forget” they are looking at a black family? Is part of its success in its cast which looks like a 1980s ad for Benneton? If that is the case? Why does the show remain, as I ask in my post, too black for TV?
Great post Racquel. The reductive positive/negative binary remains slippery and problematic and I think most people realize/recognize that is the case. As such, language is becoming re-configured so that other words, like “awkward” begin to stand in for “positive.” I think it’s also worth noting that Issa Rae can enjoy ratchetness because she positions herself (and others position her) as outside ratchet. In a way, she demonstrates how she can both be inside and outside of ratchetness, thus allowing awkward and black to remain imprecise and precise at the same time.
Fantastic post. Like you, I have noticed how the mainstream media has used Rae’s educational background and way of speaking to code her as “post-racial,” in spite of the explicit race talk and insider culture on the show itself. And in spite of the show’s “universality” (which is just code for “non-ethnic”), Rae’s primary support seems to have come from people of color - whether the viewing audience or industry supporters like Shonda Rhimes and Pharrell Williams. In fact, the very slipperiness of the show’s meaning (able to be read as simultaneously “black” and “universal”) would seem to be in line with the type of code-switching and polysemy that has long characterized black comedy.
Excellent post, Alfred. And I completely agree that ABG’s explicit deployment of interpersonal racial politics makes it unsuitable for today’s TV. That her show is “I Hate LA Dudes” is somewhat sad to me. (And I wonder it’s fate, as she’s taken a hosting gig on Johnson’s Aspire Network).
In today’s cultural climate, having “black” in the title is indeed “controversial.” Consider the racist tweets she got after winning a Shorty from people who didn’t know the show and just read the title. Or, on the other side, that BET changed the name of its Gabrielle Union vehicle from “Single Black Female” to “Being Mary Jane.”
It’s the network executives. Talk to anyone who’s pitched television to cable, and they’ll tell you the executives reflect the content. For scripted comedy, the edgiest networks (and ABG is an edgy show) are all helmed by white guys who don’t understand race or the black market and are vigorously focused on men 18-49: Comedy Central and FX, specifically, with whom I’d imagine Rae had meetings. Both networks have sought to expand beyond those markets to include women and black producers — with Key and Pelle and Broad City on Comedy Central and Kamau Bell on FX — but black female is an intersection they won’t or can’t understand.
I anticipate this might change. Ratings are declining everywhere, including on AMC. Some executive is going to wake up and do what NBC did in the 80s. There’s an untapped market, nothing TV networks love more.