Brothers Gonna Work It Out

Admit it. You were initially surprised to hear that former NY Giants defensive end Michael Strahan snagged that open spot on the Live with Kelly show. Of course you’re surprised – how could you not be? In the last few weeks, the rumor was that the co-host gig was going to Saturday Night Live head writer Seth Myers He’s sat in the co-host chair several times and, the truth is, he’s really good. His Weekend Update segment on SNL is often one of the funniest things on television. His humor is versatile.  He can go from sharp jabs to weird observations with ease and he’s conditioned to the celebrity grind, which is the half the job of a morning show host. He’s also a white male, which in most television cases (assuming you have a competent agent), is usually enough. It’s the combination of those two factors that made Myers such a strong candidate. Strahan is a black male and in case you hadn’t noticed, there aren’t very many men of color holding down national daytime television jobs. His selection, along with Steve Harvey’s upcoming talk show, is something we need to acknowledge.

Daytime television is one of the last entertainment frontiers for black men of diversity in America. It’s not even like late night where a few people have gotten “fine lets just see what happens” chances such as D.L Hughley’s CNN show or George Lopez’s TBS joint Lopez Tonight). Unless you want to talk about sports, the sentiment from the networks are nothing less than variations of nope, no and never.

There is a plethora of programming hours on TV from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. and many opportunities, especially with today’s cable packages, to present diverse ideas and faces to an audience much less demanding then the primetime one. Think about it, the majority of daytime TV consists of courts shows, soap operas, game shows and talk shows. That’s pretty much the whole thing right there. People don’t really complain about daytime shows, they usually watch them regardless of the quality. There aren’t many far-reaching ideas presented during the hours where most people are either at work/school or getting ready to go to work/school.

The most prestigious slot of the morning and mid-afternoon slate is the talk show, where opinions and predictions are presented to a malleable audience of doctor office patients and stay at homers. You get TV stars discussing their latest roles, musicians performing radio hits, a few self-help authors discussing ways to lose 15 pounds and chefs making entire meals in four-minute time compartments.

MSNBC and FOX pop off partisan buckshots for those of us who want incivility for breakfast, but even that seems tame in comparison to the evening shows. The stakes are lower at 1 p.m., but you shouldn’t be fooled into thinking that, just because it’s early in the day, that real discourse isn’t taking place. In between all of those baby diaper commercials are the seeds of the topics that will resonate in the evening, it’s just subtle.

If you’re just randomly clicking through the dial you might miss it.

These topics often lead daytime social media conversations – just now, you probably retweeted something without realizing – that it originally came from Elizabeth Hassellbeck. You say no you didn’t? Well, you should double-check anyway.

Suffice it to say that the topics discussed and the people expounding on them are heavy hitters – powerful people with great and far reaching levels of influence – and that’s why the lack of diversity in this realm is so disheartening.

The Daytime Emmy Awards break up their categories into a bunch of different subsets to focus on news, lifestyle and entertainment. Here is a list of the shows nominated for the talk show category: Anderson, The Dr. Oz Show, Live with Regis and Kelly, The View, The Talk, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, The Nate Berkus Show, The Today Show and Good Morning America. Other than Al Roker, not a single male of color in the bunch (unless you consider Dr. Oz – which I don’t – but he is Turkish), which, even from a commercial aspect, seems not just wrong but shortsighted

Earlier this year when it was announced that Steve Harvey is getting his own show in the fall, I did a head nod to myself in tacit acknowledgment and now, with the Strahan news, I can’t front like this isn’t a major deal.

Think of it like this: the percentage of black male opinions on TV this season just doubled. Why does that matter? It matters because the only consistent, prominent black man on national morning TV is The Today Show’s Al Roker. Now Roker is no slouch. He’s a smart guy with very good reporting/interviewing skills and a knack for seeming non-threatening without the aura of stepping or fetching anything at all. But he’s a meteorologist and his main job is to talk about the weather forecast and not to give his thoughts on world events and cultural lightning rods. Even if he occasionally does discuss more than just hurricanes, they leave the big piece of chicken for Matt Lauer.

The Today Show even has a segment in which they bring people on to opine on topics and newsmakers in the times I’ve watched, a black man is never given that platform.  Star Jones is usually on this segment and MSNBC’s Tamron Hall regularly hosts a segment as well, but that’s all per the usual.  Black women are all over early morning TV and have been for the last couple of years. The disparity in numbers between black men and women on daytime TV is damn near HBCUesque. There’s Sherri Shepard and Whoopi Goldberg from The View, Aisha Tyler and Sheryl Underwood from The Talk, Robin Roberts from Good Morning America, Gayle King from CBS This Morning, Wendy Williams still has her show and remember it’s only been like a year since Oprah retired. We’ve literally been there and done that with the black female thought process.

Before anyone sends me a nasty reply, I’m not saying anything negative about black women – if anything I’m on gladiator level when it comes to defending them. All I’m saying is can the brothers live, too? We haven’t had a black man letting us know what’s what since Bryant Gumbel bounced from the 30 Rock set back in the '90s. It doesn’t even necessarily matter if you like Strahan or Harvey, this is a big step because it’s breaking ground. Maybe not new ground per se, but it’s sort of like when a bridge is repaired – it should have never gotten to that point in the first place, but at least now it’s rectified.

No way to predict how they’ll do, but Strahan is solid on FOX’s NFL show, bringing an insightful and deft defensive perspective. I’ve seen him co-host on Live and he’s decent. He can do this job.

As for Harvey, he’s a funny, smart and tough-minded guy. No way do I agree with that simplistic hustle-fest relationship book of his, but its not his fault the joint became a best-seller and hit movie. This guy having a talk show, however, seems like as sure of a bet as anything. It’s going to be a hit, I’ll go ahead and predict that now.

What’s good about this moment is that it has the potential to highlight topics and viewpoints that otherwise would fall through the cracks or just straight be ignored. Black men have different concerns than those of other segments of society. Not better or worse, just different. There are few places on television where we see guys speaking honest and free.

Most of the topics will probably fall in line with the major talking points of the day – I wouldn’t even be surprised if initially there were only small differences. There won’t be any raging against the machine moments dressed in red, black and green. However, I do expect that after a couple of months that we as viewers start to see discernable changes within the shows and that (certainly with Harvey) the presence of a black male voice will start to impact each show in very black-man kinds of ways. I want to see indie actors who deserve more shine; pro athletes shunned by the mainstream, but loved in the black communities; authors and politicians with controversial viewpoints and other segments where the considerations of Black America will come to mind.

There will be some who will lament that it took too long for this to happen and they will have a slight point, but nothing more. There’s a void here, big enough to fill with a mountain, and with that there’s a helluva opportunity. Hopefully Strahan and Harvey fill it with worthwhile moments of clarity.

While they’re at it maybe they can knock down some doors for the next generation of black men who want to host TV shows or just get on TV period. At the very least it brings a sorely needed viewpoint out of the barbershop chair and into the mainstream. Hopefully there it can do some good and expose people to opinions they wouldn’t hear otherwise.

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