Black culture’s influence has emerged once again on network television as programs with a black lead or majority African-American cast lead the pack in viewership.
According to Nielsen — a global performance-management company that provides a comprehensive understanding of what consumers watch, buy and listen to — the shows focusing on a black character are drawing a substantial non-black viewership, too.
While this isn’t the first time that a TV program with a black lead has drawn non-black audiences — most notably “The Cosby Show,” “The Jeffersons” and “Sanford and Son” — Nielsen said what makes this different is the sheer number of such programs that have a cross-cultural appeal.
“Much of the American narrative lately has focused on a growing cultural divide, but Nielsen’s data on television programming shows something different,” said Andrew McCaskill, Nielsen’s senior vice president of communications and multicultural marketing.
Highly-rated programs such as “Black-ish,” “Secrets and Lies,” “How to Get Away With Murder,” “Pitch,” “Rosewood,” “Insecure” and “Atlanta” all average more than 50 percent non-black viewership.
NBC’s Golden Globe-nominated ensemble dramedy “This Is Us,” starring Sterling K. Brown as a black businessman raised by white parents, has a 89 percent non-black viewership.
ABC’s hit sitcom “Black-ish” follows a father and husband played by Anthony Anderson who wants a black cultural identity for his affluent family of six. It has a 79 percent non-black viewership.
Co-star Tracee Ellis Ross, who plays his wife, won a Golden Globe for best actress in a comedy series for her role.
“How to Get Away With Murder,” ABC’s marquee Thursday night show by African-American female producer Shonda Rhimes, pulls in a 69 percent non-black viewership for the hit drama, which stars Viola Davis as a criminal defense professor entangled in a murder plot.
Rhimes’s other hit show, “Scandal,” a political drama starring Kerry Washington, has 68 percent of its viewers falling into the category of non-black.
“Insecure,” HBO’s original comedy series created by Golden Globe nominee Issa Rae, has a 61 percent non-black viewership.
Half the viewership for newcomer “Atlanta” is non-black. The show, a Golden Globe-winning comedy-drama on FX created by and starring Donald Glover, centers on two black cousins navigating the Atlanta rap scene.
Some of these programs deal with today’s real-world tensions. Episodes of “Black-ish” have included discussions on police brutality, the presidential election, provoking debate and trending topics on social media.
One of the most widely acclaimed programs of recent seasons, Fox’s “Empire,” star Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson as ex-spouses grappling over the future of a multimillion-dollar hip-hop company.
“Empire” commands a majority black audience, but still draws a sizable non-black viewership of nearly 40 percent on average each week.
The 2016 Diverse Intelligence Series Report delves into the spending and viewing habits of African-Americans overall and quantifies their greater appetite for television content as one driver of the dramatic increase in diverse television programming.
Nielsen said between 2011 and 2015, broadcast network TV ad spend dollars focused on black audiences, which increased by 255 percent.
“Storylines with a strong black character or identity are crossing cultural boundaries to grab diverse audiences and start conversations,” McCaskill said. “That insight is important for culture and content creators, as well as manufacturers and retailers looking to create engaging, high-impact advertising campaigns.”