VH1 and Viacom are turning a new leaf – unlikely

By Michael Vass | April 6, 2010

I admit that I am surprised with the latest news coming out of Viacom’s VH1. My shock is that the former music video channel has suddenly realized that African Americans might just be more than whimsical minstrels. This is a massive departure from Viacom’s steady and degrading fare of television programing.

Viacom is the owner of Black Entertainment Television (not connected to this site or company), VH1, MTV, and Comedy Central. Of these cable networks only Comedy Central has been known to present African Americans in any format beyond buffons, especially when it comes to the “reality” television core of most of those channels. It was BET that featured it’s new line up with Hot Ghetto Mess – a collection of minstrel degrading video clips and commentary from Charlie Murphy (who looked like he was there only for the paycheck).

Add to that the consistent line up of VH1. Flava of Love, I Love New York, Rock of Love, and a host of other “reality” programs that seemed dedicated to ensuring future generations would never be bereft of stereotypes of people of color. To say that Viacom, under Sumner Redstone, has been the real life version of Bamboozled is an understatement.

So when I learned that VH1 has decided to change that format, I had to wonder if Sumner Redstone was still alive. Considering that he is approaching 87, my guess would be that he is trying to, partially, get some credit in with heaven.

Be that as it may, the new line-up at Viacom’s VH1 will include well-adjusted rich and famous Black Americans. Specifically Rozonda Thomas — better known as Chilli of TLC, Ray J and Brandy Norwood, and Shaunie O’Neal and other women involved with basketball players.

It’s a radical change from the usual fare of deficating on floors, spitting, catfights, and other ‘entertaining’ items in the “big fun romantic comedies” – what VH1 executive vice president Jeff Olde calls the usual reality television programs – that are the normal formula at VH1.

But fear not, Viacom has not lost it’s mind. They are hardly giving up the bread-and-butter of displaying minstrels and buffoons.

“Critics point to the continued inclusion of such black stereotypes as the gold-digging woman, the hypersexual and irresponsible man, and cast members prone to raging behavior and violence as a way to gratify viewers’ voyeuristic desires.”

Of course to keep that in with shows that feature, in the case of Chilli a grown woman with her own money and success plus a 12 year old son, producers will be doing a lot of editing. “Reality” television is only ‘real’ after producers single out the most ignorant and pedantic of material, especially when it comes to the formula that VH1 has had great success with. So as classy and wealthy as any of the 3 new shows might be in theory, they will definitely have their moments of trash. Given the tastes of Sumner Redstone and Viacom, I would expect a lot of them.

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