8 Shows From the Last Decade That Have Ushered in the Renaissance of Black TV

Whether you grew up watching Good TimesFamily MattersLiving Single, or That’s So Raven, you know the joy of Black television. From sitcoms to dramas, musicals and comedies, Black-led shows have delighted audiences since Diahann Carroll’s Julia became the first weekly series to star a Black woman in a non-stereotypical role in 1968. We’ve come a long way since then, and TV has changed along with society’s ever-evolving landscape.

Culturally, we’ve always seen the ’90s as the peak of Black TV, and that was the point in time when there were the most shows starring majority Black casts on American TV. Since then, the number of Black TV shows has only decreased. But in the past decade, Black creators have ushered in a renaissance of entertainment that’s provided viewers with entirely new adventures that reflect how beautifully unique Black lives can be. 

It may seem like shows such as Power, Black-ish and Black Lightning have nothing in common — and story-wise, they often don’t — but they are all part of a shift in media that reminded viewers that there’s a variety of Black stories ready to be savored. Shows such as ScandalQueen SugarPose and Abbott Elementary have highlighted how the Black experience isn’t a monolith, and, whether you’re a fan or not, there’s so much more to be explored with Black talent behind, as well as in front of, the cameras. 

In that spirit, here are eight shows that we believe helped usher in the renaissance of Black TV.

Scandal (2012-2018)

'Scandal' Cast

OK, Gladiators, now let’s get in formation. Shonda Rhimes already had ABC viewers in a chokehold with her medical drama Grey’s Anatomy, but when she introduced us to Olivia Pope and her fabulous wardrobe, she turned the TV game on its head. Scandal was the political thriller that had more twists and turns than anyone — even the cast — could keep track of, but even if fans couldn’t quite understand its meandering plotlines, Kerry Washington and her troubling taste in men kept them coming back for more every Thursday night. 

But Scandal did more than just titillate audiences with political drama, it changed the way people saw TV. When the show premiered in April 2012, a Black woman hadn’t had the lead role in a network drama for nearly 40.  Washington’s Emmy nomination for the first season was the first time a Black American woman was nominated for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series in 18 years.

(Viola Davis ended up winning the award in 2015 for the Rhimes follow up, How to Get Away With Murder.)

Not only did the show put the idea that a Black female lead wouldn’t alienate audiences into a watery grave as it deserved, but it also proved how much audiences would devote to it. Scandal practically owned social media on Thursdays, leading the charge for shows to actively interact with their fans online. Its popularity and critical acclaim paved the way for Davis’ How to Get Away With Murder, as well as all the other Black-led shows that followed. We’ll raise a glass of red wine to that!

Power (2014-2020)

What Scandal did for Black female leads, Power did for Black-led crime dramas. The series was created and produced by Courtney A. Kemp in collaboration with 50 Cent, and it led to an entire TV universe with four spin-offs. Not only has the drama introduced a score of Black talent to the entertainment business, but, much like Rhimes connected the worlds of Scandal and How to Get Away With Murder, it’s created a world with the ability to evolve with each new spinoff. What began as the story of James St. Patrick (Omari Hardwick), a drug dealer trying to leave the criminal life behind, has become an exploration of the intricate world of crime and politics. The Power universe closely examines the complexities behind the “hard” life, how the line between right and wrong isn’t so clear and how, in the end, it’s all about one thing: power. 

Black-ish (2014-2022)

Marcus Scribner Black-ish
Richard Cartwright/ABC via Getty Images

What Kemp and 50 Cent have done with Power, Kenya Barris did with Black-ish. Bringing back the joy of family sitcoms, Barris introduced viewers to the Johnson family, led by Andre ‘Dre’ Johnson (Anthony Anderson) and Rainbow ‘Bow’ Johnson (Tracee Ellis Ross). The show follows the lives of Bow and Dre’s upper-class family, with their five children, nosy parents, and numerous famous-faced friends and family.

The show has been praised for providing viewers with a modern interpretation of a Black family as they tackle personal and sociopolitical issues, and deal with real-time struggles as the world around the Johnsons reflects the turmoil of our own lives. Much like the Black sitcoms that came before them, the show never shied away from exploring issues and pushing boundaries, but approached most topics with a lightness that wanted to educate as it entertained.

The series led to the birth of the Yara Shahidi-led Freeform series, Grown-ish, the short-lived prequel series Mixed-ish, and the side-lined spin-off, Old-ish.

Insecure (2016-2021)

Issa Molly Insecure

Since the HBO series premiered in 2016, it’s been compared to several classic Black sitcoms including Living Single and Girlfriends, and that’s with good reason. Like those that came before it, Insecure took viewers into the lives of four distinctly different Black women and showed how complex and varied the Black experience can be, even within one friend group.

With every episode, Issa Rae and company not only took viewers on a rollercoaster of emotions as the cast went through their five seasons of glow-ups but also brought the beauty of a rapidly gentrifying South Los Angeles to the TV screen. Rae didn’t just get fans invested in the lives and loves of her characters, she highlighted Black-owned neighborhood hot spots, fashion brands, interior design brands, musicians and more. She showed viewers what it meant to be Black in L.A., from where to eat to where to shop, local organizations to invest in and more. 

Five seasons of trials and tribulations — along with increasingly mind-blowingly amazing soundtracks — guaranteed that Insecure will stand the test of time, and the dynamic foursome that made us tune in every Sunday will live on alongside the great TV friendships that came before them. And, much like the previously mentioned creators, Rae ensured that the buck wouldn’t stop with Insecure. Her production company, Hoorae Media, has several projects currently in production, including A Black Lady Sketch Show, Sweet Life: Los Angeles, Rap Sh*t, a revival of Project Greenlight and many more. 

Black Lightning (2018-2021)

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