Black sitcoms had a tough time getting off the ground. For a long time after TVs were a staple of every home, black actors could only be seen playing stereotypes on otherwise white shows, and even when real black sitcoms hit broadcasting networks, many were criticized for being unoriginal, and continuing to perpetuate stereotypes. Critics aside, these 10 shows left a last impression.
Network: ABC/The WB
Remember these adorable twins? They have their own reality show today, but it was this wholesome show that first earned them fame playing the adopted children of two parents who never knew each other and ended up moving in together. And how could we forget nerdy Steve Urkel! The show was cancelled after two seasons on ABC, but The WB picked it up for a third season.
Urkel’s character didn’t die off just because Sister, Sister did. This iconic character popped up again on the long-standing Family Matters—a show about a middle-class family made up of some favorites such as the nosy grandmother, Estelle; the firecracker aunt, Rachel; and of course the lovable Carl. The show had its heyday with some of the best like Full House and Boy Meets World.
Network: The WB
Our beloved Django has been charming viewers for decades! One of his first big successes was landing The Jamie Foxx Show, a show chronicling Jamie’s real experiences trying to make it in the entertainment industry. The show won an NAACP Image Award and even featured a theme song sung by Jamie himself.
The show that would make us forever think of Gary Coleman as a “child star,” Diff’rent Strokes was about two brothers from Harlem who, after the sudden death of their mother, were adopted by her wealthy employer. You’ll still hear the show’s catchphrase, “Whatchu talkin’ bout, Willis?” by people who may not even know where it came from! The show was entertaining, but it also gained a lot of respect for dealing with difficult matters such as drugs, violence and eating disorders.
Network: The WB
This show caught viewers’ attention because it certainly didn’t take place in your usual sitcom setting—no nuclear family, no pesky neighbor, no four-bedroom house. This was the story of two brothers living in Harlem, working mediocre jobs and just trying to get by with a sense of humor. Even though the show was unexpectedly cancelled without even providing fans with a series finale, it continues to be popular today among a loyal following.
Following an The Original Kings of Comedy segment on which Bernie Mac talked about looking after his nieces and nephews while his sister was in rehab, Mac decided to build an entire sitcom on that premise. The show was one of the first major sitcoms in which a character “breaks the fourth wall” (speaks directly to the camera) and fans were pleasantly surprised to see a more subdued version of the loud-mouthed Bernie Mac they were used to from his standup comedy. Fans also loved the generous number of cameos from favorites like Hugh Hefner and Shaquille O’Neal.
Network: UPN/The CW
For a long time, there was no go-to show for single black women to just laugh with their girlfriends. But then came Girlfriends—a show about four women living in Los Angeles. The show was conscious of working current events into the plots, and dealt with topics like dating, sexuality, parenthood and interracial relationships. The show’s spinoff, The Game, is still on the air.
The Jeffersons is one of the longest-running sitcoms in American TV history. The All In The Family spinoff followed a family that unexpectedly came into a large sum of money and moved from Queens to a highrise in Manhattan. The show won 13 Emmy nominations and actress Isabel Sanford was the second black actress to win the award for Best Actress.
Viewers loved this unexpected duo—quick-witted and stubborn Frank and his son, Lamont. Lamont lives with his father. Though he spends the entire show saying he’ll move out, he is held back by his love for the often insulting but very funny Frank. The show has been sampled in several rap songs, and is still regarded by many as a model for a successful African-American sitcom.
When young Will Smith was a struggling rapper, he found a financial savior in NBC, which offered him a sitcom based loosely on his own life, and on co-producer Benny Medina’s life, who moved from a rough neighborhood into the home of a wealthy Beverly Hills family as a kid. Even 20 somethings still know the theme song by heart today, and Will’s iconic 80s style inspires Halloween costumes to this day.