DAVID GREENE, HOST:
And here's an interesting fact from Nielsen, the audience research company. TV shows that feature predominantly black storylines are attracting predominantly non-black audiences. Karen Grigsby Bates from our Code Switch team wondered why.
KAREN GRIGSBY BATES, BYLINE: Television right now is an embarrassment of riches.
MELANIE MCFARLAND: There were more than 450 new shows that premiered last year across broadcast, cable and streaming.
BATES: That's Melanie McFarland. And she should know. She's the television critic for the online magazine Salon. She spoke to me via Skype. McFarlane watches hours and hours of television each week. And she's not surprised at the number of black television shows that non-black America is watching.
Non-black viewership is more than 50 percent for shows with black characters like "This Is Us," "Black-ish," "Secrets And Lies," "Pitch," "Atlanta" and "Insecure." ABC's "How To Get Away With Murder" has a 68 percent non-black audience. It centers on a powerful but not especially likable black law professor.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER")
VIOLA DAVIS: (As Annalise Keating) Either give me what I want or wake up tomorrow to a lawsuit that will color the entirety of your short run as university president.
BATES: The ABC sitcom "Black-ish" has a 79 percent non-black audience. It focuses on the affluent, suburban Johnson family. The dad, Dre Johnson, works hard to keep his private school kids grounded in black life. Here he's emphasizing the importance of recognizing other black folks, even ones his kids don't know.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "BLACK-ISH")
ANTHONY ANDERSON: (As Dre Johnson) Babe, the nod is important. It's the internationally accepted yet unspoken sign of acknowledgement of black folks around the world.
BATES: Courtney Jones is VP of multicultural growth and strategy at Nielsen and says in some ways the Johnsons are resonating today with all kinds of audiences the way another black family did 30 years earlier.
(SOUNDBITE OF "THE COSBY SHOW" THEME)
BATES: Jones says "Black-ish" is "The Cosby Show" 2.0. Both are about upscale black families. But she says "Black-ish," now in its third season, embraces racial issues rarely brought up on "The Cosby Show."
COURTNEY JONES: Microaggressions in the workplace, the tension around election results, police shootings. I think people are much more comfortable with having that dialogue now.
BATES: Some of those same issues are present in NBC's "This Is Us." One of its main characters is black and was adopted as an infant into a white family. He bristles when someone suggests he's racially unaware as a result.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THIS IS US")
STERLING K BROWN: (As Randall Pearson) Because I grew up in a white house, you think I don't live in a black man's world? Oh, you know the one. The one where that salesman there has been eyeballing us ever since we came in here, or that security guard who's moved just a little off his mark so he can keep us in his sight, and where they'll definitely ask for an ID with my credit card when I go to pay even though they haven't asked for anybody else's, plus a million things every day that I have to choose to let go.
BATES: TV critic Melanie McFarland.
MCFARLAND: Here is this person who has a very high-powered position in a corporate firm and still has to deal with a lot of the issues that face black men.
BATES: The fact that mostly not black people are watching a show like "This Is Us," says Nielsen's Courtney Jones, proves one thing.
JONES: When a show is well written, when they have great actors, people want to watch.
BATES: Even if the people on screen look different than the ones viewers are sitting next to at home. Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News.
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