Network: The WB
The only person who gets a pass for wearing Choppa Suits in 2013? Steve Harvey. Before he wrote Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man and opted for a more aerodynamic hairstyle, he played Chicago native Steve Hightower on The WB's Steve Harvey Show.
In the show, the former funk legend and member of Steve Hightower and the High Tops was forced to take a job as a music teacher at Chicago's Booker T. Washington High School. Because of budget cuts, he found himself forced to teach drama and art as well. His longtime friend Cedric, love interest Lovita, and former classmate Regina "Piggy" Lane, joined him at Booker T.
The students were just as important, and none got more airtime than Bullethead and Romeo. Lady of Rage (yes, "Afro Puffs" Lady of Rage) frequently showed up as the hulking Coretta Cox, and Keenan and Kel (Keenan Thompson and Kel Mitchell) also found time for guest appearances. Fellow All That alum Lori Beth Denberg was a mainstay as Lydia Gutman.
Like other black sitcoms, The Steve Harvey Show featured notable guest stars from the music world, including Teena Marie, who jokingly mistook Hightower for Lionel Richie in one episode. Irregular reunions of Steve Hightower and the High Tops always made for great episodes, as they brought back comedian Don "D.C." Curry and Mr. Big himself, Ronald Isley. "When the Funk Hits the Fan" never gets old.
24. Sister, Sister (1994-1999)
Network: ABC/The WB
What are the odds that twin sisters who were separated at birth would wind up meeting 14 years later? That was the premise for Sister, Sister, which starred Tia and Tamera Mowry as Tia Landry and Tamera Campbell. The two couldn't have been more different, but blood is thicker than water. In addition to being polar opposites, the twins were nothing like their adoptive parents, Ray and Lisa. Though at times it seems like the wrong twin ended up with the wrong parent, they eventually became one big family in Ray's suburban Detroit home. It's there that Tia and Tamera were constantly bothered by Roger, who's what Steve Urkel would've been if Steve Urkel looked like Batman from Immature.
After two seasons on ABC, Sister, Sister was cancelled, but The WB scooped it up for the third season. Keeping it in the family, the Mowry twins' little brother Tahj appeared in one episode as T.J. Henderson, the genius from his own sitcom Smart Guy. Sherman Hemsley, of The Jeffersons, played Ray's father and Kid of Kid 'n Play even had a walk-on as one of Tia's bosses. The history of black TV has been well documented by black TV.
23. Family Matters (1989-1998)
Nobody thought this Perfect Strangers spin-off would last for nearly a decade, but Family Matters went on to become one of the longest-running sitcoms with a predominantly African-American cast.
Set in Chicago, it told the story of the Winslow family, a middle-class bunch led by parents Carl and Harriette. When the show began, they had three children: Eddie, Laura, and Judy. Sometime after the fourth season, Judy was inexplicably written out, leaving viewers wondering what happened to her years after the show ended. As it turns out, actress Jaimee Foxworth dabbled in the adult entertainment industry and ended up on Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew.
Joining the nuclear family at the Winslow home was Carl's all-knowing mother, Estelle, Hariette's sister Rachel and her young son Richie. But as history has made clear, the true star of the show was Jaleel White's Steven Q. Urkel, the annoying neighbor introduced halfway through the show's first season.
Urkel charmed audiences with his unrequited love for Laura. Of course, the equally nerdy Myra Monkhouse shook this up, a sign that the writers were looking for a change. Not long there after, the "Stefan Urquelle" character was created, and Laura found herself drawn to him despite the fact that he was simply Steve minus the nerdy disguise.
Family Matters was part of ABC's famous TGIF Friday lineup that kids stayed up for on a weekly basis, fueled by pizza and soda. The show existed in the same fictional universe as other TGIF shows, crossing over with the likes of Perfect Strangers, Step by Step, Full House, and Boy Meets World.
22. What's Happening!! (1976-1979)
After debuting as a summer program in 1976, What's Happening!! cashed in on solid ratings and the failure of other shows to become regular weekly programming on ABC that fall. The sitcom hooked audiences with the three beloved teens living in Watts—the bespectacled Raj, the forever-smiling Dwayne, and the man with the famous dance, Rerun.
Raj was an outstanding student with dreams of one day being a writer. Rerun struggled academically, but was an amazing dancer. Dwayne always brought positive energy, frequently making his presence known by exclaiming "Hey, hey, hey!" when entering a room. Occasionally meddling in their lives and pulling zero punches was Raj's younger sister, Dee. The guys usually hung out at Rob's Place, where they always ran into Shirley, a boisterous waitress who was just as eager to rib the gang as Dee was.
Known for its recognizable theme song, What's Happening!! was popular enough to draw guests like the Doobie Brothers. It yielded a spinoff entitled What's Happening Now!! that aired from 1985 to 1988; the old cast returned to give the world an early look at a young Martin Lawrence, who worked as a busboy at Rob's.
21. The Jamie Foxx Show (1996-2001)
Network: The WB
In the mid-'90s, quality black television experienced a significant boom, and some could even be found on The WB (remember that?). One such program was The Jaime Foxx Show, based on Foxx's own experience making it in the entertainment industry.
After moving to L.A. to pursue a career in music, Jamie King works at his aunt and uncle's hotel to support himself during his quest for success. Featuring a theme song sung by Foxx himself, the show followed his trials and tribulations working at King's Tower, chasing after Francesca "Fancy" Monroe and consistently playing the **** out of one of the OG cornball brothers, Braxton P. Hartnabrig.
Over a decade after the show went off the air, the NAACP Image Award-winning program is remembered for demonstrating Foxx's comic timing and singing chops, the word Motherfloodpucker, and abusing "brougham." It also got plenty of elementary school children in trouble for shoving their hands in the faces of classmates.
One question, though—what happened to Dennis?
20. Hangin' with Mr. Cooper (1992-1997)
Comedian Mark Curry landed his first major role as Mark Cooper, a former Golden State Warrior who winds up teaching and coaching basketball at Oakbridge High School, in Oakland. Cooper moves in with longtime friend Robin and her friend Vanessa (played by Holly Robinson, truly the bee's knees in the '90s).
As no '90s sitcom was complete without an annoying neighbor, Coop struggled with Tyler, in addition the stress of living with the two women. When Dawnn Lewis left the show, Robin was replaced by Mark's cousin Geneva, who brought her young daughter Nicole (Raven-Symoné, prior to coming into her own as a bankable star) along.
As the show progressed, Tyler and Nicole became best friends and Coop began to view both Tyler and Earvin Rodman (a young Omar Gooding) as younger brothers. His crush on Vanessa evolved into romance, and the two were a couple by the end of the series.
Hangin' with Mr. Cooper was at its best once added to ABC's brilliant TGIF lineup. Though Hangin' with Mr. Cooper enjoyed several theme songs, none was better than the original, where stars Lewis and Robinson collaborated with En Vogue to sing Cooper's praises.
19. Diff'rent Strokes (1978-1985)
The show that made Gary Coleman a household name, Diff'rent Strokes told the story of two brothers from Harlem who were adopted by the wealthy businessman that their mother worked for after she passed away. Thank the show for any popular culture and hip-hop references to "Phil Drummond" as a symbol of wealth.
Still, the show's most well-known characters were Coleman's Arnold and his older brother Willis, played by Todd Bridges. In fact, Willis might be the show's most recognized character, thanks to Arnold's catch-phrase "Whatchu talin' bout, Willis?" Biggie might've called it "played out" on "The What," but it was the show's trademark.
Aside from Arnold's famous question, Diff'rent Strokes was recognized for episodes that focused on serious issues like drugs, molestation, race, violence, and eating disorders. Unfortunately, each of the show's three child stars (Coleman, Bridges, and Dana Plato) struggled with drug addiction and legal troubles after the show ended. Plato died of a drug overdose in 1999, and Coleman died at 42 after falling and hitting his head in 2010. Only Bridges survived his struggles. Despite the sad ending for the show's young stars, Diff'rent Strokes will live on as one of the 20th century's most important programs.
18. Roc (1991-1994)
During the '90s, Fox ran black television, and one of the network's lesser-known gems was Roc. Set in Baltimore, the show followed the lives of the title character (played by Charles S. Dutton) and his wife, Eleanor. Roc's younger brother Joey provided occasional humor and drama.
After beginning life as a sitcom, Roc made the bold move to air each episode from the second season as a live performance. Not only did this play to the strengths of the four main cast members—each of whom were trained stage actors—it made Roc the first scripted American television show since the '50s to broadcast an entire season live.
Roc's narratives offered hard looks at drugs and violence in urban communities, but without losing sight of the mission: offering a positive look at African-Americans doing their best to make an honest living. Unfortunately, the show's positive imagery couldn't save it from low ratings.
17. The Wayans Bros. (1995-1999)
Network: The WB
Doing it on your own terms is a Wayans family trait, so from the moment Shawn and Marlon ditched the average sitcom setting and Tribe's "Electric Relaxation" kicked off the shows' opening sequence, it's clear what The Wayans Bros. was about.
Viewers tuned in week after week to watch the two youngest brothers wade through life's ******** while living in Harlem. Shawn, the elder sibling, owned a newsstand in Manhattan's Neidermeyer Building, where Marlon also worked. Just a few feet away, their father had a diner called Pops' Diner. Over the course of the series, Dee, a security guard who worked in the building, acted as an older sister to the pair. In between, they were occasionally annoyed by White Mike (R.I.P Mitch Mullany), and hung out with T.C. and Dupree.
The show was criticized for alleged "buffoonery," but that's far from accurate. A significant part of the show's early comedy came from Marlon, but he demonstrated his serious acting chops, by surprise, leaving the newsstand to chase his dream of being an actor. As for Shawn, he was the entrepreneur, taking after his father.
The Wayans Bros. enjoyed a five season run on The WB before being unceremoniously cancelled in 1999. As mentioned in Scary Movie, it didn't even get the respect of a proper final episode. Still, it's remained popular over a decade after its cancellation, and fans will stop whatever they're doing when the show comes on television, hoping to catch the episode where Pops and his old singing group, The Temptones, get back together.
16. Moesha (1996-2001)
Ice Cube is the original "Leimert Park Legend," and currently the title is held by Dom Kennedy, but from the mid-'90s until the early aughts, it belonged to Moesha Mitchell. Brandy starred as the show's title character, a teen living with her middle-class African-American in South Central.
Moesha and her younger brother, Myles, lived with their father Frank and his new wife, Dee. Moesha's circle of friends included the loud Kim, the talkative Niecy, and the ever-present Hakeem. The teens frequented The Den, managed by Andell, one of Moesha's older friends and role models. In a "wait a minute" moment, Brandy's real-life brother Ray J joined the series for the final two seasons as Frank's nephew, Dorian.
The show, one of UPN's biggest hits, bravely dealt with issues like drugs, race, premarital sex, and infidelity. Similar to many great black sitcoms, Moesha had plenty of guest appearances, including Onyx's Fredro Starr as Moesha's on-again, off-again boyfriend, Q. Bernie Mac had a recurring role as Frank's brother, Bernie, and athletes such as Kobe Bryant (who took Brandy to his Senior Prom), Vince Carter, and Bo Jackson all had walk-ons.
One imagines that Brandy's status in the music world can be credited with the cameos from Master P, DMX, LeAnn Rimes, Russell Simmons, and Big Pun, among others.
After Countess Vaughn left the show after the fourth season, a spinoff called The Parkers was created, based around Kim and her mother, Nikki, played by comedian Mo'Nique. Andell went on to appear on The Parkers as a friend of Nikki's.
15. 227 (1985-1990)
When thinking of D.C. in the '80s, you're instantly reminded of the Redskins' Doug Williams becoming the first black quarterback to lead a team to a Super Bowl victory, John Thompson's Georgetown Hoyas becoming black America's unofficial basketball team, and the notorious Rayful Edmond flooding the streets with crack.
Add 227 to that list, too, if it hasn't already flashed in your brain. Anchored by the dwellers of a middle-class apartment building, the show primarily focused on the lives of Lester and Mary Jenkins, and their teenage daughter Brenda. Joining them were the unfiltered Pearl and her grandson Calvin, who would later become Brenda's boyfriend. 227 became a showcase for the over-the-top personality of Sandra (played by the perfectly over-the-top Jackée Harry) and a young Countess Vaughn, who earned a recurring role after her appearance on Star Search.
During its peak, 227 experienced better ratings than every program with a largely African-American cast (with the obvious exception of The Cosby Show). These days, it lives on in syndication and an extremely random appearance in Pineapple Express. It's more than your grandmom's favorite show—it's your friendly neighborhood weed dealer's favorite, too.
14. The Bernie Mac Show (2001-2006)
It all began with a segment from The Original Kings of Comedy, where Bernie Mac took in his sister's children after she entered rehab. Fox turned the situation into a weekly sitcom that was much different from what fans of Mac were used to, specifically his loud, animated tirades. Mac stayed true to his signature humor as much as the constraints of broadcast television permitted, but just like in real life, his love for his family was more than apparent.
The show was also famous for Mac's frequent breaking of the fourth wall, which he did to relay the importance or absurdity of a given moment to the audience. The Bernie Mac Show went strong on Fox for five seasons, seeing a 100th episode before the series ended.
Because Mac played himself, there were plenty of celebrity cameos a la Curb Your Enthusiasm, ranging from Hugh Hefner to Shaquille O'Neal. Bernie Mac passed away in August 2008, but his stand-up, numerous film roles, and all form integral parts of his untouchable legacy.
13. Everybody Hates Chris (2005-2009)
Network: The CW
Chris Rock's always been candid about his upbringing in Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, often explaining that the hardships of his childhood fueled his career. Not only did they push him to rise above his situation, they provided fodder for his comedy routine. Bring the Pain, one of Rock's finest stand-up performances, draws heavily on his childhood, and in the fall of 2005, he brought those memories to TV with Everybody Hates Chris.
Set during the 1980s, Everybody Hates Chris chronicled Rock's painful fight for respect, a battle that started in his own home. On the show, his parents constantly harass him; he lives in the shadow of his younger brother; even his little sister gets the best of him. He's bullied in his neighborhood and at school, and everything that he wants always seems out of reach.
Everybody Hates Chris was praised for using humor to interrogate race and class problems in America. It garnered several Golden Globe and Emmy nominations, in addition to claiming several NAACP Image Awards. In 2007, Tyler James Williams (who played the lead), became the youngest person to win an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actor in a Comedy Series. He was just 14.
12. Julia (1968-1971)
This pioneering show starred Diahann Carroll as Julia Baker, a widowed single mother working as a nurse. After her husband was killed fighting in Vietnam, Baker was left to raise her young son, Corey, on her own. Well-known black actors Paul Winfield and Fred Williamson appeared as potential suitors for Carroll's character. The show ran for three seasons on NBC before it was cancelled in 1971 after Carroll and creator Hal Kanter decided that they wanted to explore other projects.
Critics attacked the show for the lack of a male role model, and because of bold decisions like that, Julia will always be remembered as a trailblazer, and something almost every media student at a historically black college or university has pressed into their memory forever.
11. Girlfriends (2000-2008)
Network: UPN/The CW
After the cancellation of Living Single, black women were left without a go-to show. In 2000, the answer arrived: Girlfriends. Set in Cali, the show chronicled the lives of Traci Ellis-Ross's Joan and her circle of friends, which included the sassy Maya, the carefree Lynn, and Joan's best friend, the diva that was Toni. The perfectly square Williams, a co-worker of Joan's, fulfilled the role of requisite guy friend.
Girlfriends dealt with topics like dating, sexuality, parenthood, interracial relationships, and the particular struggles of being black in the 21st century. The show's writers stayed mindful of current events, working Hurricane Katrina into the plot.
In 2006, The Game premiered, a spinoff of Girlfriends that followed Melanie Barnett. It's still producing new episodes.
10. Good Times (1974-1979)
A spinoff of Maude, Good Times remains one of the most essential and controversial black television shows ever produced. Created by Cooley High writer Eric Monte, the show focused on the struggles of the Evans family, who lived in a Chicago housing project. Though no one ever came out and said it, the housing project was the notorious Cabrini-Green projects, where Monte grew up.
The main characters included working class parents James and Florida, and their three children. James Jr., or "J.J." was an animated toothpick; Thelma was the middle sibling; and socially conscious Michael was the youngest. The family was frequently visited by their neighbor Willona, who would later adopt abuse victim Penny (played by a very young Janet Jackson). Every now and then, superintendent Bookman would appear with his tool belt.
Good Times depicted a close-knit family that remained positive despite their difficult living conditions. The show was revered for its depiction of urban life, yet declined to portray African-Americans in a negative light—until J.J. turned into a caricature.
After his "Dy-no-mite!" catchphrase became a national fixation, the producers changed the show's direction to focus more on his moronic behavior than the Evans family itself. This did not sit well with leads John Amos and Esther Rolle. Disagreements about the show's direction and a contract dispute led to Amos' James Sr. character being written off of the show. In arguably (and unfortunately) the show's most famous moment, Florida yells, "Damn, damn, DAMN!" after learning that James has been killed in a car accident. Shortly after, Rolle left the show, leaving Willona to occasionally check on the children.
Rolle returned for the show's final season after bargaining with the showrunners, but by then the show's popularity had faded. Good Times lives on through hip-hop references and syndication. Its theme song was immortalized by Chappelle's Show's "I Know Black People" skit. Everybody wondered what the exact lyrics were, but nobody had ever come out and asked. But Dave did. Just another example of Chappelle's Show brilliance.
9. Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids (1972-1985)
Long before he was known as Cliff Huxtable, Bill Cosby was the creative genius behind the legendary animated series Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids. Loosely based on Cosby's experiences growing up in North Philadelphia, the Fat Albert character originated during a Cosby stand-up routine. After a primetime special entitled Hey, Hey, Hey, It's Fat Albert aired on NBC, the network wanted to build a series around the character, but was hesitant to bring it to Saturday mornings fearing it would be to education-heavy. Apparently, nothing's worse for children than learning. Eventually, Cosby took the series to CBS, where it reigned supreme on Saturday mornings beginning in 1972.
When no one else would, Fat Albert dealt with issues facing children in urban environments. Each of the characters—Fat Albert, Dumb Dumb Donald, Weird Harold, Russell, and Rudy—learned a lesson that was expressed through song every week. This, and Cosby's celebrity, helped the show last until 1985, making it one of the longest running Saturday morning cartoons ever. Aside from being one of the best animated shows ever, Fat Albert is one of the most iconic cartoon characters ever created.
8. Living Single (1993-1998)
It's only natural that Complex offer some love for a show featuring a magazine editor as the protagonist. Living Single starred Queen Latifah as Khadijah James, the mastermind behind Flavor, a fictional monthly. James lived in Brooklyn with her cousin Synclaire and friend Régine, the would-be diva. Rounding out the bunch was pit bull lawyer Max and their two male counterparts, handyman Overton and "Baker Magic" himself, stockbroker Kyle Barker.
The show ran for five seasons on Fox, and was part of its storied Thursday night lineup. Not only was the show popular for its portrayal of six black twentysomethings trying to make it in New York, it was adored because all of the principal characters were women.
Viewers were hooked on Khadijah's quest for success, Régine's quest to live the fabulous life, the sweet relationship between Synclaire and Overton, and blatant sexual tension between Max and Kyle, but they also loved the endless stream of guest appearances. Thanks in part to the popularity of black television at the time and Queen Latifah's celebrity status, the show was able to attract everyone from Ed McMahon to Grant Hill. Oh, and of course Queen Latifah's New Jersey protégés Naughty By Nature appeared. It was only right.
7. The Boondocks (2005-Present)
Network: Cartoon Network
Aaron McGruder should go down as one of the bravest and most intelligent creative minds in the history of entertainment for transforming his comic strip, The Boondocks, into a pop culture phenomenon, one of the most important television programs—animated or not—ever created. The strip was first printed in the University of Maryland, College Park's student newspaper under then-editor Jayson Blair. McGruder succeeded in selling its rights to Sony Pictures after the comic crept into The Source.
The animated series focuses on the Freeman family, who have moved from Chicago's South Side to the white suburb of Woodcrest. From this juxtaposition comes some of the best satire and social analysis to hit the small screen.
Brothers Huey and Riley, though at different stages of their lives, often find themselves fighting against a common cause or enemy, with hilarious results. Their grandfather, known as "Grandad," their sole guardian, regularly gets in over his head. But ask viewers and they'll mention one character: Uncle Ruckus, the scene-stealing Uncle Tom, who made viewers cringe in the same way that Django Unchained's Stephen did late in 2012. Of course, you can't forget rapper Thugnificent, whose downward spiral into the world of the Average Joe was brilliant, sad, and funny.
The genius of The Boondocks is its lampooning of current events and important figures. Few are safe from the show's darts. Past targets include Bill Cosby, Tyler Perry, and most famously, BET. McGruder's decision to take on factions and figures that are considered "untouchable" demonstrate real courage. With three seasons in the vault, fans are patiently waiting for the fourth. Considering some of the world's events since the third season concluded, a new string of Boondocks episodes is exactly what television needs.
6. The Jeffersons (1975-1985)
The Jeffersons represented the American Dream. With 11 seasons, it's one of the longest-running sitcoms on American television, and it all began as a simple spin-off of All in the Family. That's right, notorious racist Archie Bunker deserves some credit for bringing George Jefferson into the world.
The Jeffersons focused on George and Louise Jefferson, who happen upon a large sum of money. Along with their son Lionel, they moved from Queens to a deluxe apartment in the sky—a luxury high-rise in Manhattan. Florence, their housekeeper, provided comic relief, frequently spazzing on George because of his hairline and height. Both attributes became Sherman Hemsley's trademarks, along with his signature dance.
The Jeffersons remained popular well into the 1980s. During its eighth season, it became the first African-American sitcom since Sanford and Son to crack the top five in ratings. It amassed 13 Emmy nominations, and in 1981, Isabel Sanford (who played Louise, or "Weezie," as she was known) became the second black actress to win the award for Best Actress.
After The Jeffersons ended in 1985, Hemsley and Sanford continued to reprise their roles on other shows, including The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, where they bought the Banks' house in the series finale. Hemsley and Marla Gibbs appeared as George and Florence on Tyler Perry's House of Payne before Hemsley's death last summer at the age of 74.
5. Sanford and Son (1972-1977)
The South Central L.A. neighborhood of Watts received a surprising amount of love from TV during the 1970s, with the most coming from Sanford and Son. The U.S. version of the British show Steptoe and Son, Sanford and Son gave black America a slightly less abrasive answer to Archie Bunker. Played by the legendary Red Foxx, Fred Sanford was a wily old coot who constantly insulted others with his quick wit. The most frequent target of his jabs? His son, Lamont, who helped him sell antiques and, well, junk.
Lamont longed to step out on his own and live a life free of his father's critiques, but his genuine love for his old man—and Sanford's constant threats—kept him around. It was just the two of them, as Fred's beloved wife and Lamont's mother, Elizabeth, had long since passed away. In the show (and Foxx's) most famous gag, Sanford would threaten to join her in Heaven via a heart attack in a desperate attempt to get his way.
In addition to providing a model for the successful African-American sitcom, Sanford and Son was a smash hit across audiences. Even when Foxx temporarily left the show because of a contract dispute, its popularity never flagged. The show lives on through the character of Fred Sanford, and through every rap song that's ever sampled the theme.
4. Martin (1992-1997)
Very few programs remain every bit as entertaining over 15 years after their conclusion as Martin, a show about a big-eared radio DJ from Detroit with enough personality for an entire cast. Fox was the network to watch back in the 1990s, rivaling the popularity of NBC's "Must See TV" block of Thursday night programming with a lineup that drew an engaged urban audience. Between New York Undercover, Living Single, and Martin, Fox's Thursday night lineup ran the triangle offense better than the Chicago Bulls did in the 1990s. During the 1996-1997 television season, these shows were the three highest rated programs among African-American households, with Martin serving as the jump-off for one of the best two hours of television ever organized.
Comedian and actor Martin Lawrence played Martin Payne, a DJ for WZUP (and eventually the host of his own talk show, "Word on the Street"). Central to the show was Martin's relationship with Gina Waters, the large-headed (literally) love of his life. They broke up and got back together throughout the series, but their genuine love provided a complement to the show's constant comedy.
Also important were Martin's relationships with his biggest adversary, Gina's best friend, Pam James, and his two best friends, the comically inept Cole Brown and the tall, bald, and possibly unemployed Tommy Strawn.
Beyond the central cast, the wild gang of side characters played by Lawrence regularly stole the spotlight. Martin had no problem dressing up in drag to play his too-hood-for-her-own-good neighbor Sheneneh, or Martin's mother, the mustached Mama Payne. Lawrence's other legendary characters include Jerome the has-been Detroit pimp, Dragonfly Jones, Bob from Marketing, Roscoe, and Otis.
From Jim's Barbershop to Nipsey's Lounge, Martin had classic locations where the main cast ran into other hilarious characters, like Tracy Morgan's Hustle Man. Even when Martin retired to the solace of his own home, he couldn't escape unexpected visits from Bruh-man, who climbed through the window before using that infamous slow bop to help himself to whatever he wanted from Martin's apartment. Martin also had numerous amazing guest stars like Richard Pryor, Billy Dee Williams, Keith Washington, Snoop Dogg, Tommy Hearns, Randall Cunningham, Method Man, Jodeci, and even Biggie. No show is landing cameos like that.
Not only was Martin instrumental in African-American culture and hip-hop culture, it played a role in popular culture that can't be argued. How else would Complex be able to compose a guide of the show's sneaker history? Despite only being on the air for five seasons, Martin left behind so many great characters and scenes that kids will be getting disciplined at school forever thanks to syndication. Think about it like this: two decades have passed since the show began, and people are still talking about how they "can't pay the five." That says alot.
3. A Different World (1987-1993)
"That's a different world like Cree Summer's."
This reference to the Winifred "Freddie" Brooks character played by Cree Summer is one of many A Different World nods from the college dropout himself, Kanye West.
The Cosby Show spinoff followed Denise Huxtable as she followed in her parents' footsteps at the esteemed HBCU, Hillman College. Denise dropped out (or rather, was written out because of Lisa Bonet's pregnancy), and the show shifted its focus to the frustratingly prissy Whitley Gilbert and he of the flip-shades, Dwayne Wayne.
Not only did A Different World show historically black fraternities and sororities at work on Hillman's campus, it also dared to talk about date rape, skin tone, class struggle, the Persian Gulf War, domestic violence, and the L.A. riots. It was one of the first television shows—black or otherwise—to address HIV and AIDS.
Executive producer Debbie Allen deserves the lion's share of the credit for the show's far-reaching seriousness, as she drew on her own experiences at Howard University when creating the world of Hillman.
A Different World's connection to The Cosby Show allowed for several crossover episodes between the two, but the level of star power went far deeper than that. The list of important greats and soon-to-be-megastars is enormous: Diahann Carroll. Patti LaBelle. Richard Roundtree. Gladys Knight. Jesse Jackson. Heavy D. En Vogue. Whoopi Goldberg. Halle Berry.
Hell, 2Pac even popped up as Lena's boyfriend from back home, allowing viewers to bask in the the well-documented chemistry between Shakur and his old friend Jada Pinkett-Smith. Lena also came face-to-face with her namesake, the legendary Lena Horne, during the show's final season.
For bravery of subject matter dealt with and for the premise alone—young black people at college—A Different World is one of the most important (and best) TV shows in hisotry.
2. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (1990-1996)
In the fall of 1990, a skinny kid from West Philly decided to try his hand at acting. As rap's first Grammy award-winner, it couldn't be that hard, right? After making a name for himself as a hip-hop star in the '80s, a guy named Will Smith found himself in a bit of a financial bind. Consistent cash would fix that. Enter NBC, and an offer to star in a sitcom loosely based on his own life and that of co-producer Benny Medina, who, after growing up in a rough neighborhood, moved in with a wealthy family in Beverly Hills. You know this story.
You know it, because you know the theme song to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. A kid gets into some neighborhood beef that scares his mother so badly she sends him to Cali to live with their wealthy family. There, our hero becomes Public Enemy No. 1 in the Banks' household, except in the eyes of his Aunt Viv and youngest cousin, Ashley. There's preppy cousin Carlton, with his fondness for Tom Jones. There's Uncle Phil, or the Honorable Judge Philip Banks. There's Geoffrey, the wry butler. These are the characters you remember.
This is a moment you'll never forget: Will's biological father, Lou, reappears and tries to develop a relationship with his son. Uncle Phil has never respected Lou for abandoning Will and his mother, and doesn't want to see his nephew hurt again. When that happens, just as Phil predicted, the embrace between Will and his uncle goes down as one of the most heart-wrenching television moments of the 20th century. You watched Will Smith become an actor, the man who would grow to command millions.
During its six-season run on NBC, The French Prince of Bel-Air was a juggernaut. Viewers learned the theme song without trying. Smith even allowed "Summertime," his classic track recorded with DJ Jazzy Jeff, to fuel the show's popularity and vice versa. Hell, the legendary DJ landed a role on the show as Will's friend, the one whose undying love for Hilary got him regularly ejected from the Banks' residence.
Love for the ladies was a recurring theme, allowing Will to come across some of the baddest women of the time: Stacey Dash, Tyra Banks, Robin Givens, and Nia Long. Furthermore, the The Fresh Prince had a storied history of guest appearances that we chronicled right here.
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was the perfect complement and eventual successor to The Cosby Show, as it depicted an upper-class African-American family that wasn't out of touch with the realities of black America. It wasn't quite as funny as Martin, but it dealt with a broader range of subjects. That makes it one of the better television shows of all-time—period.
1. The Cosby Show (1984-1992)
Worst kept secret ever, right? After running for eight seasons on NBC and receiving accolades as one of the best TV shows of the 1980s, The Cosby Show is the best black sitcom ever produced. Building on the strengths of its trailblazing predecessors, The Cosby Show has been credited by TV Guide with "almost single-handedly reviving the sitcom genre" and NBC after ABC chose not to pick it up—big mistake. It's been over 28 years since the show premiered on NBC, and ABC still has to be salty about their decision to pass. Shows like The Cosby Show—which served as the model for so many modern sitcoms—only come around once. Mistakes happen though; the Portland Trailblazers did pass on Michael Jordan in 1984, coincidentally the same year that The Cosby Show began.
For eight magical seasons, The Cosby Show revolved around the Huxtables, a well-to-do African-American family living in a Brooklyn brownstone. Not only were both parents present, they were extremely successful. Cliff was a doctor and Claire was a lawyer. They had five children: four girls and one boy. It went Sondra, Denise, Theo, Vanessa, and Rudy. All five of the Huxtable children were based on Bill Cosby's actual children, including his late son Ennis who suffered from dyslexia, providing further inspiration for Theo's character.
Each of the Huxtable children attended college during the show's run, with the exception of Rudy, and only because she was too young. Denise followed in her parents and grandfather's footsteps at Hillman College, though she would eventually drop out to find herself through an alternative path, traveling to Africa and eventually marrying a Navy man. The Huxtables represented a nuclear family with successful parents who passed their values along to their children and pushed them to succeed, even when they fought their hardest against it.
By the end of the series, The Cosby Show had built a lineage of success from grandparents to children that hadn't been seen before on television, regardless of race. The Cosby Show played a huge role in the lives of all races, so when Jim Carey's character from The Cable Guy referred to himself as "the bastard son of Claire Huxtable," you understood and believed him.
In spite of its success—Emmy awards, Golden Globes, NAACP Image Awards and People's Choice Awards—people still managed to criticize the show. It was called unrealistic; people chided it for avoiding the subject of racism and neglecting the struggles of the underclass. If the only complaints were that the show portrayed African-Americans too positively, then there was nothing to complain about at all.
Did the Huxtables represent every black family? No, but neither did the families on previous shows. Not only did The Cosby Show offer a look into the life of an affluent African-American family, it also offered TV's first look at the HBCU through Hillman College. This paved the way for A Different World, and set up great crossover episodes between the two shows.
The Cosby Show's guest appearances were almost unmatched: Stevie Wonder, Senator Bill Bradley, **** Vitale, Jim Valvano, Adam Sandler, and a very young Alicia Keys, just to name a few. Everyone wanted some of the good-natured success.
And you can't talk about the show without talking about style, as Cliff's collection of Coogi sweaters will forever be known as "Cosby Sweaters." The "Gordon Gartrelle" shirt episode will never be forgotten.
The Cosby Show ended during the L.A. Riots, and holds the crown as not only the best black television show, but one of the best televisions shows ever made. There will never be another like it. There can't be.
This list sucks
Edited by mossman1975 - 2/14/13 at 8:39pm