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Tuesday, 18 November 2014

UPN: Why For All Its Faults, It Was Still A Catalyst For Promoting Black Sitcoms

Over a decade ago, the Black or African-American sitcom were regular fixtures thriving on US television, both on national and cable television. 

Say what you want about UPN, which stands for United Paramount Network: I know I for one didn't like all of the Black sitcoms that aired and which I saw on You Tube and Trouble channel in the UK. But they gave the Black sitcom another opportunity to shine at a time when NBC, Fox etc gave up on them. 

The UPN network aired programming for Black audiences during a period in the mid 1990s to early 2000s when shows aimed at African American audiences started waning and NBC, CBS, Fox, ABC stopped caring. 

When Family Matters, Martin, The Jamie Foxx Show, The Wayans Bros to name came to an end, the major American television networks seeked to marginalise not just Black viewers, but fans of African-American sitcoms altogether by refusing to a) accept scripts from writers and creators of Black sitcoms and b) reducing predominately Black casting on its shows. UPN, as well as the WB picked up shows the major networks wouldn't touch with a barge-pole, or of which they cancelled. 

When the LL Cool J - led show 'In The House' was cancelled by NBC after 2 seasons, it was picked up by the UPN, who aired the remaining 3 seasons. And yet I liked the show when it was on NBC because it was a good show then, and when it moved to UPN, it wasn't.

We didn't have UPN or NBC, Fox or any of those networks in the 1990s when those shows aired in the UK; for that we had a channel called 'Trouble'

The channel consisted mostly of overseas shows such as sitcoms. They included All of Us, The Cosby Show, Cuts, Diff'rent Strokes, The Cosby Show, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Hangin' With Mr Cooper, My Wife and Kids, In The House, The Parkers and The Steve Harvey Show. 

That was my first real taste of African American sitcoms across the pond. I used to switch on Trouble after school, and tune into those shows. It was amazing. 

Yet in spite of their efforts, these sitcoms that aired on cable networks, such as UPN, were slated and looked down upon and weren't seen in the same league as the Black sitcoms on NBC, CBS and Fox such as The Cosby Show, The Jeffersons, Different World, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. 

Before BET, there was UPN: it was in many regards one of the first Black television channels in America. Looking at the sitcoms that aired on UPN via the Wikipedia page, out of those listed I only enjoyed 3 of them: Girlfriends, Moesha and The Parkers. The rest were not very appealing to me. 

The UPN didn't have such huge wads of money for shows to compete against the high quality of Black sitcoms on the 4 big networks, NBC, Fox, CBS, ABC. 

Black viewers in America love their Black sitcoms, but the truth remains in TV land: sitcom shows with predominately Black casts and no or rarely any token White characters to be seen, do not sustain momentum on national TV today (unfortunately). 

Black-Ish's appeal is down to the success and interest in other single camera sitcoms like Modern Family, The Middle and The Goldbergs, which I don't watch. In fact, I don't watch single camera sitcoms these days. Black-ish is a continuation of the single- cam sitcom boom of the US TV industry, whilst the traditional multi-cam sitcom is unfortunately being phased out. 

The recent success of ABC's Black-ish may be all fine and dandy so far, but the real test lies on a) the longevity of this series, & whether or not it lasts more than 3 or 4 seasons, b) the quality of the writing improves and that as a sitcom, it remains funnier and c) if network executives on major US TV re-examine their approach towards African American sitcoms -, and that the way forward for this genre to flourish and make progress, is to air multi-cam sitcoms with a laughter track. 

Not single-camera sitcoms that have no laughter track. I tend to find those types of sitcom shows difficult to get used to as a viewer. 

Back to the topic, by 2006 the UPN and WB networks were under-performing and its ratings for its shows began to tank. With that in mind, both networks got together and formed the CW. The 2 original shows that came from that stable were Everybody Hates Chris and Girlfriends. And they were very good sitcoms. 

Like I said earlier, I didn't enjoy many of UPN's Black sitcoms compared to the Major networks, but compared to say BET, UPN's counterparts they were (and arguably still are) better than BET's. 'Love That Girl', Reed Between The Lines & Tyler Perry's shows just don't do it for me. And not forgetting, the UPN with the WB were filling a void which is now taken up by TV One, which airs reruns of African American sitcoms of the 1970s-90s. 

The UPN wasn't perfect by any means - Did the UPN's existence resulted in an elimination of African American sitcoms on mainstream TV? Yes. and yet did the UPN rescue the African American sitcom which at the time, was being phased out by the 4 major networks? Again yes. 

We keep turning to and lauding The Cosby Show and A Different World as the bench markers for excellence in Black sitcoms, because those shows made a real impact not just on US television but global television too. But at the same time, by dismissing Black sitcoms prior to the The Cosby Show and A Different World (The Jeffersons, Good Times, Sanford and Son, 227, That's My Mama, What's Happening!!) and after it (The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Martin, Living Single, The Jamie Foxx Show, Family Matters, The Wayans Bros, Girlfriends) if you are going to support the Black sitcom and are a fan of these shows, you need to be supporting all those shows as well.

Not just The Cosby Show and A Different World. Because those shows resonated with many people. The Jeffersons may have been wild and outlandish with the frequent use of the 'N' word, Good Times may have portrayed Blacks as being poor, living in slums, for pushing social issues to the forefront such as drugs and child abuse. What's Happening!! was the first teen Black sitcom featuring a character named Raj/Roger trying to make ends meet, who has a younger sister and a single parent. But those sitcoms each offered a different take of Black America; way before Bill Cosby's arrivals in a Black upper-middle class family and a historically Black college. 

One may argue those depictions of Black people were negative and that A Different World and The Cosby Show offered an alternative take on African American Life and success. Some would say in the case of the latter show, it wasn't realistic. I tend to differ slightly, but I would add that ADW and The Cosby Show was more about showing that Blacks can be smart, intelligent and assimilate into so-called White American culture and become successful. 

The UPN sitcoms reflected the Black experience in more ways than one. However, on the flip-side, the network struggled a lot because many of those sitcoms, for the exception of Girlfriends, were not big hits (and by big i'm talking about millions of viewers) - ratings-wise, but critically speaking, they were panned as well. And thus, these weren't well-received by viewers. 

In hindsight, they were not of the same quality as The Cosby Show, A Different World, Fresh Prince of Bel Air and other NBC, Fox's offerings. But at least UPN filled the void left by the big four networks in that department. 

And for that, I give them credit. 

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Drawing & Why It Means So Much To Me

My interest in drawing started when I was around 10 years old at middle school. One day, I was drawing something - I forgot what it was- and when one of the teachers looked at it, they said they liked it. After that, I drew other things and by then the other kids in the school took notice. 

I took art and design at high school, but then, I spent most of my time in hospital and had an operation on my abdomen/belly and spent a couple of months recuperating. I didn't do much drawing, but when I had fully recovered, I started drawing again. At the end of high school at 16 years of age, I ended up with a grade E or F.... in art and design. 

I consider myself to be a self-taught artist; I have taken life drawing classes in college but it was on a part-time basis. Other than that, I learnt how to draw myself just by doing it, without supervision. I believe the skills and what I had learnt during my time on the courses has helped me develop my drawing skills, overtime. 

As much as I would love to be a real artist and make money out of my work, I do not make any profit from my drawings, as I don't put them on sale. I don't sell my drawings, and I have no intention to. Art and drawing for me, is a personal thing that goes beyond putting a price of a creation on a canvas or piece of paper. 

I love drawing so much: for the challenge it possesses, for the pride I take in my work, to improve on my skills, for the joy of artistic expression, & for creating something that is mine.

I feel as though drawing is such an important part of who I am and my personality, that I fear that by selling it, it would lose its sense of worth and passion that I have put into creating it in the first place. 

Arguably, in my opinion (and people can feel free to disagree on this), drawing is the most original -yet under-appreciated art form known to man over the likes of dance, music, acting, painting, photography. I mean, those art forms are amazing in their own right. But drawing has been around for so many years and is still practiced today, and still to this day and age, it is criminal that it doesn't get the appraisal and media coverage it deserves. 

Without drawing, the art world and the world in general, would cease to see people's creations in art galleries and museums, in advertising and movie posters, comic books, video games, CD and DVD covers, as well as on social media and networking, and apps such as Instagram. 

I enjoy drawing people and characters the most; predominately video game and cartoon characters and celebrities. I would describe my style as 'semi-realistic', but I want my work to look more detailed, polished, refined and realistic. I want to try and make each drawing look better than the last and to improve each and every time. That has been my intention since I began drawing at a young age, and yet that will never change for me. I really want to get better and better, and I know I can go one step, or two steps further than I usually do when I draw. 

In terms of my approach, I start doing the outlines in pencil, then go over them in black biro, and after that erase the pencil lines. I like drawing with a biro, because to me it is like a pencil but more darker. The type of biro I prefer drawing with is one with a thinner tip or a bic fine. I just like how thin the lines look when I draw with it.  

When I draw, I focus so much on making sure the drawing turns out right and looks right. I know that often I tell people to do the best they can, but with art, and my art especially, when I draw a real-life person, I want it look like him or her and/or as the photo on the internet or magazine. I am 'zoned in' in getting their noses to look right, their lips in the right shape, the face isn't too large or small. The only aspects of the face I don't dwell too much on is the hair. Hair can be time-consuming to draw, and when you do it, you end up making sure each line is perfect and correct. If i were to spend 2 hours or more drawing hair alone, I'd lose interest in my work altogether. 

Drawing faces is my speciality; I just enjoying drawing them because a) they vary to a degree and b) facial expressions express a wide range of emotions and feelings that I want to capture on paper. I regard it as one of the most challenging and interesting things to draw. The human face is one of the most intricate things to get right, inasfar as posture, accuracy, detail, composition and perspective goes. 

Sadly, I'm not one of those people, who can draw from memory. I am not an illustrator. It is a unique skill to have though and I commend people who do it really well. I have to constantly refer to the photo or image. But I don't see it as a negative thing, rather it enables you to see the little details that one may have trouble depicting on canvas, without the photo. 

And yes there have been times when I ended up scrunching up that drawing and chucking it in the bin, because it looked 'wrong' to me. But that's the challenge art poses, & one I am not going to give up on. 

I take a lot of pride in my work and how it looks that I go to great lengths in making sure it looks 'right' to me, and that when others see it, it looks 'right' to them.

I noticed that with age, as I get older and the more I draw that my drawings and my drawing style develops and changes little by little, with each stage. I remembered the way I drew characters, people when I was 10, and they looked so much different then. I wished I still had those drawings on me today just to contrast and compare with my current drawing skills.

My favourite artists are Shinkiro, Greg Horn, Alex Ross and Gabrielle Dell'otto. Those would be my 4 favourites. The skill levels they all possess individually, is incredible. They each bring something different and unique to the table and plus, their styles captivate and speak to me on so many levels. 

I don't want to become a better artist, for the sake of being better than all the other artists. Rather I want to become a better artist for myself. That is the biggest challenge of them all. It's a personal one as well, but still big. I want to improve for me and myself only. 

As for the term 'professional', it tends to get labelled as a person who has worked in the industry or area for a long time on a paid basis, but that isn't (necessarily) true. I wouldn't call myself a professional, because it could be taken in the wrong context, and seen in a 'cocky' manner. I am 33, but considering I have been drawing since I was 10 years old, does that make the word professional redundant? No, not at all. I can live with the term artist, without 'professional' in it. 

If I was to offer advice to anyone who wants to draw or to get better at drawing, it would be, to keep drawing, as much as you can and when as you can too. Doesn't matter if you have no intention in getting a job as an artist. That or if you are not taking up art in college or school. You can do art as a past-time, to keep you occupied when you are not working. Keep doing what you are doing, post it on social media, and then people will soon take notice. 

People often say 'I can't draw'; they say they can't, but I say they can. You can. Anyone can draw - you just need to be able to see, visualize things, elements really well to replicate it on paper. 

Also, never compare yourself to other artists - you're making art by yourself, you're not making it for other people. This is not a competition or contest deciding who is the greatest artist in the world. Art is not (as) subjective as others make it out to be - what one person thinks of his/hers art, that piece of art they created is their own creative style, take on the concept, idea. Which is unique. The aesthetic nature of art may be the same, but how we experience it differs with each person. When we see art for ourselves, we sense it, feel it and that his/hers style speaks to us on many different levels. 

By comparing yourself and saying 'my art skills or drawing is terrible', you're only putting yourself down and discouraging yourself from drawing. I never compare my art and art skills with any other person - I acknowledge and embrace my style and continue to develop it. In my mind, it doesn't exist. The whole 's/he is better than or worse than me' argument is something I never bring up. Because it is so discouraging and does no wonders to any artist. 

Instead, I offer praise, words of encouragement and congratulate them on their efforts. For me, it is about effort, moreso than technique. As long as they try and give it a go, that's important. 

Take no notice of the criticism people make towards your art, or even still, see the constructive criticism or feedback as a form of 'tough love' and help it spur you on and to improve on your drawing skills. 

When I draw, especially things that interest me, it brings me joy, happiness and it further prolongs my interest in the art form. 

The more you draw, the better you will get. And who knows, you may get a few positive comments out of it too. 

*You can find my art on  
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