We need to go back five and four years, respectively, to find the last black comedy on the Big 4: Fox’s Brothers in fall 2009, and the last drama with black main cast, NBC Undercovers in fall 2010. (Undercovers had two black leads; for a true black ensemble drama we have to go back far further, to 2000’s City Of Angels.) All were swiftly cancelled.
The most recent successful black comedies on the major broadcast networks were the 2001 family sitcoms My Wife & Kids and The Bernie Mac Show, while I can’t think of a single black drama that has done well on broadcast TV.
This season we have one of each: Fox drama Empire and ABC comedy Black-ish. Ironically, as rare as it is having two black broadcast shows the same season, Black-ish and Empire also air against each other.
The new competition has taken a toll on Black-ish. While remaining the season’s No. 1 new comedy with the best Modern Family retention in five years, Black-ish was the only ABC Wednesday comedy to post declines when returning from holiday hiatus on January 7. That’s when it faced the highly rated premiere of Empire on Fox. Black-ish matched its lowest result in 18-49 (Live+Same Day) that night. Last Wednesday, when Empire grew in Week 2, Black-ish slipped to a new 18-49 low in L+SD, 1.9.
Empire clearly is impacting Black-ish; it would be impossible not to as their audiences clearly overlap. Dramas, like Empire, carry a stronger sense of urgency to view, which explains why the Fox soap is drawing audience away from Black-ish. Comedies in general don’t command the same urgency, so we will need to wait for DVR data to see if Black-ish viewers simply postponed watching their show to tune in to Empire or permanently migrated to the drama.
Either way, ABC might want to explore swapping the Anthony Anderson sitcom and The Goldbergs, which, for the past two weeks, as Black-ish was being dinged by Empire, outrated Black-ish despite its stronger lead-in from Modern Family. The sophomore family comedy is doing nicely at 8:30 PM, regularly building onto its Middle lead-in, so there is an element of don’t fix it if ain’t broke. But if Empire continues to be as strong and Black-ish continues to slide, a switch might be an option.
It is safe to assume that a comedy about a 1980s Jewish family will probably not have such a big viewership overlap with a contemporary hip-hop black family soap.