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The Rise and Fall of Black Sitcoms: The Switch from UPN to CW

By Kehinde Adejumo | February 26, 2024

Photo Credit: Pixabay

Do you remember watching Black sitcoms as a kid? For many of us, it was a staple in Black households to sit around your box TV waiting each week for a new episode of your favorite show on the UPN network. Sadly, those days are not an occurrence anymore since Black sitcoms have basically vanished. This is UPN's history and how it led to the CW channel. 

What was UPN? First, we need to discuss how the UPN Network came to be. UPN (United Paramount Network) made its debut in 1995 and its audience was originally white male viewers. The network executives decided that they wanted to reach diverse audiences. This was when the Monday night block of black sitcoms was born which included “Moesha,” “Half & Half,” and “Girlfriends” along with other shows. The most successful shows were the ones which were female-driven. These shows hired actresses that already had a following. The UPN network launched careers, especially Mara Brock Akil’s career. She was a writer on “Moesha” and creator of “Girlfriends” and its spinoff “The Game.” UPN was considered the golden era of black television. 

UPN had more than ten Black sitcoms but three of them really changed Black television:

  • “Moesha”: “Moesha” ran from 1996 to 2001, starring the popular R&B singer Brandy Norwood. The show was a family sitcom that focused on Moesha Mitchell, a young black girl dealing with romance, school and friendships. The show was one of UPN’s biggest hits as it focused on issues like race relations and teenage sex. These issues were not normally covered in family programming at this time. The show changed fashion and hair trends and showed black teenager life like never before.

  • “Girlfriends”: “Girlfriends” ran from 2000 to 2008, starring Tracee Ellis Ross. The show is inspired by “Sex and the City" but focuses on a group of black women relying on their friendship to face life’s highs and lows. Girlfriends touched issues such as HIV/AIDS, divorce, miscarriage, colorism and family drama. Mara Brock Akil wanted to make a show where black women were at the forefront. She wanted people to see that black women were human and had many layers.

  • “Half & Half”: “Half & Half” ran from 2002 to 2006, starring Rachel True and Essence Atkins. The show focused on a pair of estranged half-sisters who become neighbors and try to repair their relationship. “Half & Half” made audiences resonated with the dynamics people with extra siblings understand. The series was the most watched after “Girlfriends.” 

The CW: Now we have to discuss how the CW came to be. The CW channel was announced during the January 24, 2006 conference when Leslie Moonves (former chairman of CBS) and Barry Meyer (former chairman at Warner Bros) announced UPN and the WB network were struggling financially and would merge to form a new channel (The CW). The CW began to greenlit shows centering around white teenagers that got more privilege than the Black shows. When handling press junkets, the white shows would have their separate slot while the Black shows were all lumped together. This inequity ran all the way down to craft services. Sadly, advertisers did not want to pay appropriate rates to support Black shows because they felt it would diminish their brand. The CW became a drama show network and canceled the UPN shows. The creation of CW led to the loss of an entire generation of POC writers.

While Netflix acquired a lot of Black sitcoms in 2020, the streaming platform removed a lot of them in August 2023. These sitcoms were gone from syndication for years and nothing filled that spot in television ever since. Black sitcoms never left the viewers’ hearts and there is an audience waiting for a reboot, spinoff, or anything for their favorite stories to be concluded. Unfortunately, a lot of these shows were canceled because they were only important to the Black community and did not have the support of their white counterparts. While what happened to UPN was devastating to Black audiences, we must continue to support Black-led shows to make sure our voices continue to be heard.


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