Top 10 Black TV Families That Changed the Game

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Top 10 Black TV Families That Changed the Game

VOICE OVER: Andrew Tejada WRITTEN BY: George Pacheco
These wonderful Black families have brought experiences unlike others on TV. For this list, we'll be looking at live-action African-American families whose presence broke down doors, laid groundwork or were otherwise hugely influential on the small screen. Our countdown includes the Banks family from "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" (1990-96), the Johnsons from "Black-ish" (2014-), the Winslows from "Family Matters" (1989-98), and more!
Transcript
Script written by George Pacheco

These wonderful Black families have brought experiences unlike others on TV. For this list, we’ll be looking at live-action African-American families whose presence broke down doors, laid groundwork or were otherwise hugely influential on the small screen. Our countdown includes the Banks family from "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" (1990-96), the Johnsons from "Black-ish" (2014-), the Winslows from "Family Matters" (1989-98), and more! What Black family on television left an impression on you? Let us know in the comments!

#10: The Winslows

“Family Matters” (1989-98)

“Family Matters” was a “Perfect Strangers” spin-off that quickly gained a life and loyal fanbase of its own. This is thanks largely to the strong bond between the unique members of the Winslow Family and a certain neighbor. Since each character was so well-defined, it was easy for everyone to find someone to identify with. And the show was also willing to balance surreal and silly moments with serious social commentary. Carl Winslow’s position as a black police officer also gave the show an opportunity to tackle relevant issues from a diverse perspective. “Family Matters” still reigns as one of the longest running sitcoms with a primarily Black ensemble. Its high episode count gave the Winslows plenty of time to make an impact on viewers.

#9: The Paynes

“House of Payne” (2007-12)

Tyler Perry has written many powerful works that focused on Black issues over the years. So, expectations were high when he brought his “House of Payne” series to television. Fortunately, the titular family exceeded expectations when they arrived on tv. The Paynes were unafraid to discuss serious issues in natural and realistic ways. And since the stories became more mature over time, they managed to tackle a really wide range of topics. The Paynes also stood out by focusing on developing their stories across multiple episodes instead of being more episodic. With over 250 episodes, the family at the center of the sitcom reinforced the desire for Black representation in the 21st century tv landscape.

#8: The Williams Family

“Everybody Hates Chris” (2005-09)

Comedy icon Chris Rock volunteered his childhood experiences to be dramatized and serialized for the small screen. The result was the hilarious and extremely relatable “Everybody Hates Chris”. While audiences had become accustomed to seeing Black sitcom families who’d figured everything out, the Williams pushed back by showing a family who was still trying to get ahead. It also set itself apart from its contemporaries by combining adult narration from the future with storylines from the past. While the Williams family could’ve given us countless seasons of stories, Chris Rock chose to end it after season 4. Letting the Williams end their story while it was still fresh helped them be remembered fondly.
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#7: The Banks Family

“The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” (1990-96)

If there’s any constant on this list, it’s how each one of these families took the occasionally cliché structures of situation comedy and inserted real drama. The Banks family were masters at switching between big laughs and sobering scenarios on a dime. What also made the family so special was how they brilliantly explored classism and prejudice within the Black community. While people were quick to make assumptions about Will because of where he grew up, they also saw the Banks family as out of touch because of their wealth. But at the end of the day, they all had to come together to overcome the same societal hurdles. This loving and funny sitcom helped challenge assumptions about what a Black family could look like.

#6: The Bakers

“Julia” (1968-71)

While “Julia” may not be as well known as other programs on this list, it doesn’t mean it was any less important. The Baker Family were absolute trailblazers for the television landscape. Early on, we learn that Diahann Carrol’s Julia became a widow after her husband lost his life in the Vietnam War. We see her spend episodes only raising her son Corey as a Black single mother while working as a nurse and exploring her love life. Her journey drew both controversy and judgment from critics and viewers. However, “Julia” didn’t let the pressure shift the premise during its run. The Bakers continued to change the game when it came to black female representation on television.

#5: The Sanfords

“Sanford and Son” (1972-77)

After losing his wife, Fred G. Sanford navigates business with his son Lamont. Seeing the two men try to keep the family business and themselves afloat made for a fun setup. On the surface, the series seemed to be a showcase for Fred Sandfords brash and broad style of comedy. But thanks to the family pushing the boundaries, many other Black sitcoms could feel free to do the same. The Sanfords also were also two men that disagreed a lot yet never failed to express genuine affection for each other when it mattered. While the Stanfords had lost their matriarch, it was encouraging to see that they never lost love for each other.

#4: The Johnsons

“Black-ish” (2014-)

Throughout the 2010’s, “Black-ish” proved that the small screen depiction of a Black family can always be updated and pushed forward. Each member of the Johnson family is written with complexity and humor. Their storylines directly address and often subvert assumptions about African-American characters in sitcoms. By taking this approach, the family feels familiar and refreshingly new at once. The Johnsons became such a sensation that multiple family members starred in their own spin offs. While each show had a different level of success, it was clear that viewers wanted to see the main characters continue to thrive on their screens. There’s no way you can talk about prominent Black families in the 21st century without mentioning the Johnsons.

#3: The Evans Family

“Good Times” (1974-79)

In this twice removed “All in the Family”spin-off, The Evans Family struggled to make ends meet while living in low-income public housing. No matter what came their way, they supported and loved each other at the end of the day. “Good Times” certainly didn’t shy away from the serious problems that affected struggling families. However, it kept the tone hopeful in many episodes by focusing on the smaller victories they experienced. The Evans were a few of the first characters to brilliantly explore many facets of Black culture with openness and heart. Seeing them portrayed with honesty paved the way for countless others shows to do the same.

#2: The Jeffersons

“The Jeffersons” (1975-85)

After George Jefferson’s dry-cleaning business takes off, he and his wife move on up to a deluxe Manhattan apartment. Although their new place comes with a different view of the world, they never forgot where they came from. Depicting a Black’s family tremendous rise to the top was a bold move that defied stereotypical portrayals that had been on the before. “The Jeffersons” also let us know that a change in location didn’t exempt them from facing societal problems. “The Jeffersons” tackled issues head on with occasionally strong language and well-written stories. George, Weezie and their son Lionel proved to be one of television’s most memorable families by showing that while moving up can be difficult, it’s definitely possible.
Before we name our number one pick, here are some honorable mentions!

The Jenkins Family, “227” (1985-90)

They Helped Highlight the Importance of Fostering Community

The McCulloughs, “The Bernie Mac Show” (2001-06)

After Sad Events Brought Them Together, This Fourth-Wall Breaking Family Lived Happily

The Landry-Campbells, “Sister, Sister” (1994-99)

The Main Family Brought Attention to Class Differences & Adoption in the Black Community

The Drummonds, “Diff’rent Strokes” (1978-85)

They Put a Spolight on Interracial Families While Making Us Laugh & Learn

#1: The Huxtables

“The Cosby Show” (1984-92)

While real events altered the way the actor behind the patriarch is perceived, the positive feelings about this groundbreaking family haven’t changed. Having Claire and Cliff be presented as a lawyer and doctor without an elaborate explanation was huge. Knowing success was the norm for the Huxtables made for an incredible portrayal of a Black family. Every member of the household navigated problems that were unique to them and universal to the audience. This allowed the show to cover a lot of ground during its historic run. At one time, the Huxtables weren’t just the top sitcom, but the #1 show on television for five seasons. Seeing this fantastic Black family represent America’s most popular program was a fantastic and game-changing sight.
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