The Outlook

This isn't for the sensitive

Lincoln Heights

All this talk of Tyler Perry v. Spike Lee got me thinking…

A commenter on A Belle in Brooklyn’s post on this issue, Butterscotch Baby, said

With the cancellations of Everybody Hates Chris, Chocolate News, and possibly The Game, all I’m left with is Lincoln Heights.

I love Lincoln Heights and I’ve been watching it since it first premiered on ABCFamily. It’s a lesser known show on a niche market cable channel, but it’s a good one.

Lincoln Heights is a show about a family, the Suttons, who move back to “the Heights” when the father, Eddie, a police officer, decides he should live where he works. Lincoln Heights is not necessarily the safest community, but it is a community filled with people who remember when the neighborhood was safer and who want it to go back to that. We’re introduced to Eddie’s wife, Jenn who is a nurse and helps to open up a free-clinic in the neighborhood, their 3 kids, Cassandra (Cassie), Elizabeth (Lizzie) and Taylor (Tay) who are all wary of a move into a crime-filled neighborhood.

Now in it’s 4th season, we’ve seen a lot happen to the Suttons, including their house almost destroyed by an earthquake, kidnappings, fights and even a serious relationship between Cassie and her boyfriend Charles. The show isn’t different from many of the dramatic family-oriented shows we’re used to, except that the Suttons are a black family and Lincoln Heights, at the center of everything, is a black neighborhood.

I’m intrigued by a few things. Firstly, Lincoln Heights has been on air since 2006 and it’s still not getting a lot of play in the black community. That means the people watching it are white, which isn’t necessarily surprising since ABCFamily is a network oriented less towards the African-American demographic than the white demographic. Secondly, even in light of us losing shows like The Game, Everybody Hates Chris and Girlfriends black folks still aren’t discovering Lincoln Heights. Despite our claims that we’ve not seen a nuclear black family since the Cosbys, Lincoln Heights still isn’t getting any airtime in black households.

According to a report done by Media Reports¬†the actual group that’s keeping LH on the air are teenagers. Most recent numbers show that ratings hover near or above¬†1% for the 12 – 17 demographic. In other words, about 30,000 12 – 17 year olds in the country watch Lincoln Heights. Typically reports on “who’s watching what” are done in terms of age. For the most part, advertisers concern themselves more with how old audiences are, than their race — which makes sense. Ford, for example, wouldn’t really want to advertise to a bunch of under-18 year olds who most likely can’t purchase a car, while Mattel might not be interested in advertising to an audience of over-20 when they’re pitching their new Barbies.

That being said, when we start talking about minority-starring shows, we can assume that their audiences, to a large degree, are a homogenous bunch, racially. LH stands out because they appeal to a teenage crowd, across the racial spectrum. A lot of kids see themselves in Cassie, Lizzie and Tay — even if those characters don’t look like them. Many fans absolutely love Cassie and Charles (Chassie as they’ve been named by the fans) together and are worried that the writers are going to break them up. Others identify with the way Lizzie is still trying to fit in in her new high school and others identify with Tay’s struggles as the baby boy.

What the writers have done with this show is amazing. The Cosby’s had crossover appeal because there was a certain level of race-neutralizing worked in. There wasn’t a terrible amount of discussions about their race, which worked. At that time, black folks were just happy to see them on television. Lincoln Heights has dealt with race repeatedly: Charles is white and, as we know, Cassie is black. Lizzie is dating a Hispanic guy and while we haven’t seen any issues for Lizzie and her boyfriend yet, Chassie started having problems almost immediately. For one year, Lizzie took an opportunity to go to a private school where she found it hard to make real friends because the kids either assumed she was there on a basketball scholarship and was stupid, or only wanted to be her friend because “black people are cool…” I felt like that storyline was so important — it’s a form of ignorance that is often overlooked.

I hope that more black households pick up on Lincoln Heights. It’s important that we support the shows that are doing what we want them to do so that we have more clout when we complain that there aren’t enough of those shows.

Check out some clips (or entire episodes) of Lincoln Heights on ABC Family’s website. But more importantly, WATCH IT. Mondays, 8pm EST, ABC Family.

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October 28, 2009 Posted by | Entertainment, Review, TV Shows | | Leave a comment