Atlanta's frequently lambasted black reality shows are back in the news after having another huge week.
The star of one tied the knot while the star of another got shot - while driving past his mother's funeral procession outside Boston, Ma. But the bigger news is the record ratings shows like "Love and Hip Hop Atlanta," "Real Housewives of Atlanta" and other cable network spin-offs continue to draw, despite having majority black viewerships. The Hollywood Reporter includes a feature on the topic in its current reality-TV themed cover package. The story's titled "Race and Reality: The Quiet Success of the Black Unscripted Boom":
Race isn't exactly a preferred topic of conversation. Perhaps that's why there has been so little chatter about one of the biggest trends in television. Reality shows with predominantly (or entirely) African-American casts now are among the biggest hits on cable. But as offerings that are driving ratings highs increase on such broad-skewing unscripted hubs as VH1 and Bravo, one marker goes ignored: Most of the viewers are black as well.
The story, which also includes a glammed-up photo shoot with RHOA star and current "Dancing With the Stars" cast member NeNe Leakes, goes on to dissect the reasons behind the cultural phenomenon. Writer Michael O'Connell calls it "the Tyler Perry effect." As he writes, Perry's recent TV success on OWN has "reinforced the fact that there is a hungry African-American audience to be tapped outside of traditional black-targeted networks."
But with the outcry over negative depictions also coming largely from black viewers, media researcher Esther Franklin of Starcom MediaVest Group warns that networks like Bravo and VH1 - which have both reaped success from mining Atlanta for such shows - have to diversify their range.
"I think it's a double-edged sword," cautions Franklin. "While the community is excited to have these series, I think it's going to be a challenge to make sure they stay in touch with the needs of the community so that this generation of programming doesn't become the new generalization."
Here's another theory that remains unexplored in most coverage regarding the surprising success of such shows. Perhaps the larger segment of people who indulge in these shows do so not because they reflect their reality but because they're such an extreme escape from their reality. At least, that's my story and I'm sticking to it.
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