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Black Television Travels

African American Media around the Globe

Timothy Havens

Publication Year: 2013

Black Television Travels provides a detailed and insightful view of the roots and routes of the televisual representations of blackness on the transnational media landscape. By following the circulation of black cultural products and their institutionalized discourses—including industry lore, taste cultures, and the multiple stories of black experiences that have and have not made it onto the small screen—Havens complicates discussions of racial representation and exposes possibilities for more expansive representations of blackness while recognizing the limitations of the seemingly liberatory spaces created by globalization.”
—Bambi Haggins, Associate Professor of Film and Media Studies at Arizona State University
“A major achievement that makes important contributions to the analysis of race, identity, global media, nation, and television production cultures. Discussions of race and television are too often constricted within national boundaries, yet this fantastic book offers a strong, compelling, and utterly refreshing corrective. Read it, assign it, use it.”
—Jonathan Gray, author of Television Entertainment, Television Studies, and Show Sold Separately 
Black Television Travels explores the globalization of African American television and the way in which foreign markets, programming strategies, and viewer preferences have influenced portrayals of African Americans on the small screen. Television executives have been notoriously slow to recognize the potential popularity of black characters and themes, both at home and abroad.  As American television brokers increasingly seek revenues abroad, their assumptions about saleability and audience perceptions directly influence the global circulation of these programs, as well as their content. Black Television Travels aims to reclaim the history of African American television circulation in an effort to correct and counteract this predominant industry lore.
Based on interviews with television executives and programmers from around the world, as well as producers in the United States, Havens traces the shift from an era when national television networks often blocked African American television from traveling abroad to the transnational, post-network era of today. While globalization has helped to expand diversity in African American television, particularly in regard to genre, it has also resulted in restrictions, such as in the limited portrayal of African American women in favor of attracting young male demographics across racial and national boundaries. Havens underscores the importance of examining boardroom politics as part of racial discourse in the late modern era, when transnational cultural industries like television are the primary sources for dominant representations of blackness.
Timothy Havens is an Associate Professor of television and media studies in the Department of Communication Studies, the Program in African American Studies, and the Program in International Studies at the University of Iowa.
In the Critical Cultural Communication series

Published by: NYU Press

Cover, Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 1-7


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pp. vii-9

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pp. ix-x

In one guise or another, I’ve been working on this book for the past fifteen years, during which time I’ve received encouragement, advice, critique, and assistance from more people and institutions than I can remember. I have received funding from the Indiana University Center for International Business Education and Research, the Institute...

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pp. xi-xii

The metaphor of commercial cultural exchange that informs this book is travel. I propose thinking of exchanges of television, film, music, and other forms of popular culture through the heuristic metaphor of travel because of the connotations of change, power, effort, and uncertainty that the word bears. To travel is to make a conscious choice...

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Introduction: African American Television Trade

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pp. 1-27

On December 8, 2005, the Museum of Television and Radio in New York broadcast an interactive panel discussion where television writers, actors, programming executives, and viewers at colleges across the country discussed new opportunities for women in dramatic television series. I called in with a question about why dramas featuring...

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1. Roots and the Perils of African American Television Drama in a Global World

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pp. 29-55

Prior to the runaway worldwide popularity of the 1977 miniseries Roots, few television series featuring African Americans circulated internationally, and none had sufficient success in foreign sales to catch the eyes of program merchants. Amos ’n’ Andy (1951– 1953) appeared in the United Kingdom, Australia, Guam...

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2. Integrated Eighties Situation Comedies and the Struggle against Apartheid

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pp. 57-77

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, prime-time, episodic television featured African Americans almost exclusively in integrated, middle-class situation comedies. Despite the massive domestic and international popularity of Roots in 1977, U.S. television executives remained unconvinced that African American themes and characters could generate the kinds...

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3. The Cosby Show, Family Themes, and the Ascent of White Situation Comedies Abroad in the Late 1980s

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pp. 79-99

Beginning in the mid-1980s, changes in both domestic and international media industries led to increased international sales revenues for U.S. programming of all genres. These increases were particularly noticeable in the formerly resistant markets of Western Europe, which had tended to view U.S. programs...

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4. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Channel Fragmentation, and the Recognition of Difference

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pp. 101-118

While white American situation comedies came to dominate the U.S. primetime landscape in the 1990s, African American series, especially situation comedies, tended to feature youth themes addressing multiracial audience segments. This trend followed the growing popularity of rap music and hip-hop culture among teenage and young adult...

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5. The Worldwide Circulation of Contemporary African American Television

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pp. 119-146

Since the mid-1990s, television channels, audience configurations, and program offerings have continued to fragment both at home and abroad. The economics of this splintering landscape have proved challenging for program producers and networks nearly everywhere, and a growing number of them have turned to international markets in order...

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6. Black Television from Elsewhere: The Globalization of Non-U.S. Black Television

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pp. 147-170

In recent years the globalization of television production, the spread of comparatively cheap audiovisual production equipment, channel fragmentation, and various forms of digital video production and distribution have combined to increase the amount of television programming produced and distributed by black communities...

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Conclusion: Transnational Televisual Aesthetics and Global Discourses of Race

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pp. 171-187

The circulation of culture predates the formation of nations, and probably only a small fragment of the world’s cultural exchanges ever travels through the formal circuits of commercial media institutions. The other, unsanctioned, spontaneous exchanges originate in highly localized and communitarian impressions...


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pp. 189-193


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pp. 195-207


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pp. 209-214

About the Author

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pp. 215-228

E-ISBN-13: 9780814759448
E-ISBN-10: 081473720X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814737200
Print-ISBN-10: 081473720X

Page Count: 224
Publication Year: 2013