News Column

Ellen Gray: What's happening with Encore's new Black?

November 13, 2013

YellowBrix

I'm not sure what to think about Encore Black.

Not to be confused with "Orphan Black," the cloning drama on BBC America, Encore Black is one of the channels the Starz-owned Encore cable networks will be launching on Dec. 2, along with Spanish-language Encore Espanol and Encore Classic, which will target baby boomers with reruns of shows like "Murphy Brown," "Magnum, P.I." and "Night Court."

Encore Black, aimed at African-American viewers, will also feature reruns of shows once popular with baby boomers: "What's Happening!!," "Diff'rent Strokes," "Amen" and "227." All shows that aired on major networks in the '70s and '80s _ and therefore watched by many more millions than watch most of what's on those networks now _ what they have in common is that they're comedies with predominantly black casts (or in the case of "Diff'rent Strokes," with more than one black star).

In 2013, that's apparently all it takes to separate them from "Night Court" and "Murphy Brown."

That struck me as strange, if not downright offensive. But then I recalled a recent joint study by Nielsen and the National Newspaper Publishers Association about "The African-American Consumer," which noted that African-Americans, who watch 37 percent more television than any other group, were found to be focusing a lot of their attention on "media outlets dedicated to black audiences."

The study found that only two broadcast shows, ABC's "Scandal" (starring Kerry Washington) and Fox's "American Idol," were able to crack the primetime Top 10 for African-American viewers 18-49 for the first six months of this year.

Of the remaining eight, BET had two, VH1 had five and Bravo one. Every one of those channels costs less to advertise on than ABC or Fox, which should make them appealing to media buyers trying to reach African-American consumers.

So if Encore Black were ad-supported, I could understand its desire to stand out from the crowded cable universe to attract advertisers. But it's not. Like all the Encore channels, Encore Black will be commercial-free.

If it were talking exclusively about original programming, I could understand it, given how much tougher it seems to have become for new comedies with predominantly black casts to land on broadcast networks.

But we're not. These shows _ from the sitcoms that once played to a broad audience to the Starz original series, "Martin Lawrence Presents 1st Amendment Stand Up," weren't originally made for a channel labeled by color.

So why put them there now?

Is it because black viewers assume "classic" doesn't mean them?

Or because viewers of all colors have come to assume it means white?

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Ellen Gray: graye@phillynews.com

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