If you were a Black kid who grew up in the ’90s, there were only two boy genius’ before Jimmy Neutron became a thing. Of course, Steve Urkel held it down for the sloppy geniuses on Family Matters. But another side of the melanated Poindexter was taken over by none other than T.J. Henderson from The WB sitcom Smart Guy.
T.J., played by a younger Tahj Mowry, was a brilliant student who was too gifted for his elementary school lessons, so he transfers to the same high school as his older siblings Marcus (played by Jason Weaver) and Yvette (played by Essence Atkins). Of course, drama and situational comedy ensues.
The show — which aired on The WB from 1997 to 1999 — was a true gem, if not for the comedy, then for the light-hearted shenanigans T.J. and his family got into. Unfortunately, the show only lasted three seasons, which is not terrible for T.V., but might cause devastation for fans.
Co-star Jason Weaver recently spoke to Comedy Hype about why he thinks the show got canceled.
“I don’t attribute it to being ratings. I attribute it to, let me word this really carefully…when new networks are building their audience. And when they’re looking to transition to attract a more mainstream audience, they will adjust their time slots and scheduling accordingly to meet that audience. The WB alongside with other networks like Fox when they first launched, UPN, in the very beginning, when these networks were launched, [they] had a lot of content that was geared towards African American or minority audiences to bring in the viewers because they knew we were going to sit down and look at it. After a while, when they’re looking to attract a wider audience, a more mainstream audience, then they’ll go, ‘okay, what show can we fit into this time slot now that can cater to that audience that we’re trying to attract.’ So that’s essentially what happened.”
When asked if Smart Guy was doing well before its cancelation, Weaver explained:
“It was doing well, but the network was like ‘okay well we want to try something different, we’re kind of moving in a different path now, this has been fun. It’s actually a Disney show so Disney, if they want to continue to put it on Disney channel, which they did, they can. But we as the WB are going to move in a different direction now.’”
Sounds to me like they dumped the Black show to make room for the less Black (*ahem* White) content.
Around the time Smart Guy ended, there weren’t many shows with a predominantly Black cast on The WB. The shows that received the most attention were geared towards general teen/young adult audiences like Smallville, Charmed and Gilmore Girls. The sitcoms that did make it to the network were shows like Sabrina the Teenage Witch and Reba. Let’s face it, any Black-led sitcom was probably on UPN, holding on for dear life before the WB and UPN merged to become The CW.
Smart Guy co-star Essence Atkins articulated a similar sentiment to Weaver about the cancelation of Black shows. In an interview with Shadow and Act, she says networks like UPN went through a “gentrification process” before dissolving to become The CW. She attributes this “gentrification” to the cancelation of another show she was on — UPN’s Half & Half.
“When you’re the number one, number two show on a network and then the network just dissolves and gets bought out and becomes something else…it’s not the first time that a network has built their wealth on Black content and then, slowly but surely, [goes] through a gentrification process,” Atkins said. “We, as Black audiences, we are incredibly loyal, we have a lot of buying power and so markets capitalize on that. What seemed to be the pattern was that they would get their hit White show and then they would slowly but surely eradicate their directives. That leaves a big deficit in terms of us being able to see our own stories, believing in your own story and amassing an audience to the point where you become undeniable.”
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The power of Black audiences has been underestimated, overlooked, and exploited for decades and, unfortunately, gentrification is no stranger to the TV and film industry. #EssenceAtkins (@essence_says) knows this fact all too well due to her own experience with networks using Black storytelling to build their wealth only to leave us high and dry in the end. #ShadowAndAct sat down with the TV star to discuss how she personally found out #UPN was dissolved in the midst of ‘Half & Half’ being one of the top shows on the network. Click the link in our bio for more. #blackstorytelling #essenceatkins #tvnetworks #blacktelevision
Hopefully, the tides have changed in 2019. Although networks like The CW are still very White, Black and people of color shows on the network have amassed a great audience and critical acclaim, whether that be Jane the Virgin, All American or Black Lightening. Now that Black people are demanding more, the pressure is on and the results prove that these Black-led shows are…..well, undeniable.