‘The Game’ scores touchdown for black programming

By Shardae Smith

After a two-year hiatus, season four of the comedy-drama “The Game” premiered on Jan. 11 on cable network BET. With 7.7 million viewers tuning in, that show is now the No. 1 ad-supported, scripted series premiere in cable history, according to the Nielsen Ratings Co.

Now that BET has broken ratings records, does this mean black sitcoms are going to make a comeback? With the numbers “The Game” has produced on BET, the cable network has a chance to give network TV a run for its money.

It’s unfair so many black sitcoms are given the axe with little or no notice to prepare viewers for their demise.

There was a time when “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air,” “Moesha” and “Living Single” showed a promising future for black sitcoms, but as of late, minority television shows are almost non-existent. It’s at a point where the black community will tune in to a show—whether or not people enjoy the show—just to give the program a chance to stay on the air.

BET’s original sitcom “Let’s Stay Together,” which premiered right after “The Game,” is now ranked among the top five ad-supported sitcom premieres in cable TV history.

“The Game” was canceled in 2009 by CBS and Warner Bros. joint television network The CW, after the network decided it wanted to carry hour-long programming as opposed to a 30-minute series. Fans of the show—which follows the lives of fictional San Diego Saber football players and their family battles—were outraged and campaigned to keep the show on the network before it was officially canceled.

When BET started airing “The Game” in syndication, shortly after its CW cancellation, my friends and I continued to watch the episodes as if they were new. We were in denial. On Twitter I would often see comments from people watching the reruns begging for BET to pick up the show again.

Comedian Chris Rock’s “Everybody Hates Chris” was canceled at the same time as “The Game,” after The CW moved both shows to an unfavorable Friday night time slot, even though both shows were popular within the black community.

Once “The Game” was moved to the Friday night death spot for its last season on The CW, ratings dropped to 1 million viewers weekly. Coincidently, The CW programs “One Tree Hill” and “Gossip Girl” received the same amount of viewers at the time. Two years later, the network continues to carry these shows in its lineup.

Though fans were able to bring “The Game” back to the airwaves, it came with changes I wasn’t expecting.

With the switch from The CW to BET, “The Game” has fewer writers and has had to shoot episodes entirely out of sequence for efficiency. The set has also been moved from Los Angeles to Atlanta. BET isn’t even available in households without basic cable and doesn’t receive the commercial support other networks may receive.

Those changes were quite visible during the season premiere but, as my best friend pointed out, maybe the BET logo plastered in the right hand corner of the screen is what made them so noticeable. BET has taken a lot of criticism during the years because of its programming, such as booty-shaking videos and jumping on the reality TV bandwagon, which has been redundant since 2006.

Even when LGBTQ cable network Logo premiered “Noah’s Arc,” a scripted series that followed four black gay men living in Hollywood, it didn’t work out in

fans’ favor.

Although critics stated it’s the network’s highest-rated original series, it was canceled unexpectedly after two short seasons in 2007. A rushed movie to resolve the season’s cliffhangers was released in 2008.

For me, it’s not the shows getting canceled, it’s the fact that they’re popular, in high demand and they’re canceled unexpectedly. Is there some type of hex on black TV?

Besides BET, cable channels TVone, which premiered its original series “Love That Girl” earlier this month, and TBS (Tyler Perry’s “Meet the Browns,” “House of Payne” and “Are We There Yet?”) are the only channels catering to scripted black programming.

It’s apparent this genre of programming has become rare, but it appears to be making a strong comeback. Maybe the return of “The Game” and its high ratings can help make room for more opportunities for black sitcoms.