OWN recently announced that it is bringing back 227! In the process, it is bringing back Pearl Shay (played by Helen Martin), a black grandmother raising her grandson Calvin Dobbs (Curtis Baldwin) in an apartment building in Washington, DC. Pearl spends quite a bit of time leaning out of her window, gossiping with the other tenants—Mary (Marla Gibbs), Rose (Alaina Reed Hall) and Sandra (Jackée Harry)—as the three younger women gather on the building’s front stoop. Pearl is generally portrayed as the voice of reason and is usually quick to speak her mind, and often does so with humor.
In a study of all prime time fictional series that employed a family configuration as the primary story vehicle airing on the commercial networks Skill and Robinson (1994) found that during the 1950s and 1960s 97% of the families were white. “The first televised black family did not appear until the 1960s when Julia aired featuring Diahann Carroll as a widowed black woman working as a nurse and raising a son. The 1970s was the most racially diverse with black families comprising nearly 14% of all family portrayals. By the 1980s, despite the popularity of the Cosby Show, the total number of black families decreased by 50% during this decade (456).”
So, during the 1980s when 227 (1985-1990) was aired, black families were less than 7% of all families shown on major commercial networks. Networks like BET and OWN have brought us a long way, including bringing 227 back! Tune in every Saturday and Sunday beginning December 2nd.
Skill, Thomas and James D. Robinson. 1994. “Trend: Four decades of families on television: A demographic profile, 1950‐1989.” Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media, 38(4): 449-464.