The Stages Of Viewing TV While Black, As Told By The Fresh Prince

This is a story all about how my life got flipped, turned upside down.

The Hollywood Reporter scrubbed five decades of television history to produce a spread last week titled "53 Years of Trailblazing TV."

"Trailblazing," for the article's purposes, included only producers who have won Emmys for Best Comedy or Best Drama — which no black showrunners apparently have. (That trend continued Monday at the 66th Primetime Emmy Awards.) For the sake of conversation (not just because it's a factual statement), can we agree these parameters are a bit limited?

If this is agreeable, let me move on. An article celebrating lily-whiteness as an aspect of "legendary" television only serves to sadden me as a black viewer because it punctuates just how much things have changed during my lifetime.

To help me illustrate these changes, I've solicited some help from one of the most enduring figures of my television-viewing adolescence: The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. You ready, Will?

Stage One: A Land Flowing With Milk and Honey

Stage One: A Land Flowing With Milk and Honey

NBC Productions / Via Warner Bros. Television Distribution

When I was a kid in the early '90s, my family went to church on Thursday nights. This meant my father set the VCR (!) to record Fox's primetime lineup: Martin, Living Single, and New York Undercover.

In one night, I could look forward to a sitcom set in my hometown of Detroit, another comedy about four female friends and their romantic hits and misses (long pre-dating Sex and the City), and a drama about a pair of detectives who were Latino and black.

It never occurred to me that one day these images would range from scarce to non-existent.

In third grade, my class had to fill out some kind of self-profile, in which I distinctly remember writing that Frasier was my favorite TV show. I'm sure my teacher, Mrs. Adelstein, found this amusing.

The point here is that we didn't go out of our way to only watch black television shows. We didn't have to: At one point in time, L.A. Law followed Cheers, which followed A Different World, which followed The Cosby Show on NBC — but then shows like Seinfeld and Friends took the place of the former two, shows that were hugely successful and unapologetically non-diverse.

So, while television viewing wasn't necessarily segregated in my house... the television landscape began doing the shifting for us.

Stage Two: Forced Exile

Stage Two: Forced Exile

NBC Productions / Via Warner Bros. Television Distribution

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