With 'Scandal,' New Visibilty for Black Women On TV ABC's new drama Scandal, from Grey's Anatomy creator Shonda Rhimes, depicts a powerful black woman in Washington, D.C.: Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington), a top-flight crisis manager. Critic Eric Deggans says the show is an example of programming increasingly aimed at black female viewers.
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With 'Scandal,' New Visibilty for Black Women On TV

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With 'Scandal,' New Visibilty for Black Women On TV

With 'Scandal,' New Visibilty for Black Women On TV

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/149998991/150041909" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST: Tonight ABC broadcasts a new show called "Scandal." It comes from the creator of "Grey's Anatomy" - Shonda Rimes, one of the most powerful black women in TV. The show depicts a powerful black woman in Washington, D.C. Here's critic Eric Deggans.

ERIC DEGGANS: Olivia Pope is a top-flight crisis manager.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SCANDAL")

DEGGANS: She's a fixer so impressive she can tell the Ukrainian mob what to do, in a burst of rapid-fire dialog.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SCANDAL")

DEGGANS: That's Kerry Washington, who you might recognize from wife and girlfriend roles in films like "The Fantastic Four" and "Ray."

But in "Scandal," she shines as Olivia Pope, a lawyer and crisis manager inspired by real-life fixer Judy Smith, whose cases have included Michael Vick and the BP oil spill. Neither one of these ladies is anybody's girlfriend, wife or sidekick.

The last time I can remember a black woman leading a network TV drama it was 1974.

(SOUNDBITE OF "GET CHRISTIE LOVE" THEME SONG)

DEGGANS: TV producers were looking to cash in on the blaxploitation movie trend, so they got Teresa Graves to star as an undercover cop.

(SOUNDBITE OF "GET CHRISTIE LOVE" THEME SONG)

DEGGANS: TV's come a long way since then, when a guy flung the n-word at Christie Love. But television still doesn't often showcase black women in starring roles outside comedy, until now.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "BRAXTON FAMILY VALUES")

DEGGANS: "Braxton Family Values" is an unscripted show starring R&B singer Toni Braxton, her mother and her siblings. And it was a surprise hit for female-centered WE TV, so they capitalized on that success, devoting Thursdays in prime time to unscripted shows featuring African-American women, targeting black female viewers.

This is a valuable audience. They watch more TV than just about anyone else and control most purchasing decisions in black households, totaling nearly $1 trillion in spending power.

Even Oprah Winfrey, the queen of all media, has developed a show about a successful black restaurant owner.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "WELCOME TO SWEETIE PIE'S")

DEGGANS: "Welcome to Sweetie Pie's" has become a rare bright spot for Oprah Winfrey's OWN cable channel. Winfrey's found her typical audience of middle-aged white women hasn't watched enough to make her cable channel work, with one analyst predicting her channel might lose $142 million this year.

So Oprah's reaching for black female viewers, one of many programmers learning a powerful lesson: Sometimes catering to the most underserved viewers makes the best business sense of all.

HOST: Eric Deggans is TV and media critic for the Tampa Bay Times.

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