During Black History Month, we honor the TV shows that paved the way for Black representation on screen. Good Times, the first series to showcase a Black nuclear family, set a precedent for Black art, pride, and issues to enter American living rooms. Here are ten more groundbreaking series led by Black characters.
The Cosby Show (NBC, 1984–1992)
"The Cosby Show" made a significant impact on television by breaking racial stereotypes and showcasing a representation of Black life that many viewers could relate to but had never seen before. "Before "The Cosby Show," Black sitcom humor relied on the specificity of 'the Black experience,'" said Malcolm-Jamal Warner, who portrayed Theo, the only Huxtable son.
However, the Huxtable family challenged these expectations by presenting themselves as a universal family, despite their distinct Black identity reflected in their dress, art, and music. The family issues portrayed on the show were relatable across ethnicity, socio-economic status, and family makeups, creating a legacy that Warner remains proud of.
"Regardless of how some people may feel about the show now, I'm still proud of the legacy and having been a part of such an iconic show that had such a profound impact on, first and foremost, Black culture, but also American culture," he said.
The Jeffersons (CBS, 1975–1985)
"The Jeffersons" broke new ground by portraying an upper middle class Black family, paving the way for future shows like "The Cosby Show." The sitcom also tackled issues of race in America with a frankness and humor not often seen on TV. George Jefferson's sharp wit and blunt humor made for uncomfortable but necessary conversations about race. Additionally, The Jeffersons featured an interracial couple and Black characters across the socio-economic spectrum.
"We wanted to reflect the diversity of America and show a well-off Black family," said Norman Lear, who created the show, in an interview with PEOPLE in 2022. "During the show's development, three members of the Black Panthers came to my office to express their concerns about the negative stereotyping of Black people on television. The meeting ended positively as we were already creating The Jeffersons."
Director Oz Scott, who directed 40 episodes of the sitcom, added: "I think people saw themselves in the characters and had something to aspire to."
Sanford and Son (NBC, 1972–1977)
"Sanford and Son," starring Redd Foxx and Demond Wilson as a father-son team running a business in Los Angeles' Watts neighborhood, was the first network series with a mostly Black cast since Amos 'n' Andy in the 1950s. Norman Lear created the show based on the popular British series Steptoe and Son, but with a unique American feel.
Foxx's character, Fred Sanford, was the Black equivalent of All in the Family's Archie Bunker, but with an unapologetic style that brought humor to the show. Foxx's improvisational humor and iconic one-liners contributed to the show's success.
Norman Lear, the creator of both "Sanford and Son" and "All in the Family," believes that humor and joy add time to one's life. In a 2022 interview with PEOPLE, he credits Redd Foxx's comedic talent, from his earlobes to his knuckles, for adding laughter and joy to his life.