Thursday Night Retro
Once upon a time, Thursday nights in Black America went “Martin” at 8:00, “Living Single” at 8:30 and “New York Undercover” at 9:00. Once upon a time in Black America was the mid ‘90s, my high school era, the era of Nas, the BIG Fella, the Tribe, Wu, Buckshot & BCC, Mary J., Snoop & Death Row, Boyz II Men, Mariah, Toni Braxton…you get the point. New York City was still New York City. WTC stood tall, even after a mostly unsuccessful though fatal terrorist attack (people tend to forget the first terrorist attack at World Trade Center). Most of the terror came from domestic hands (Waco, Ruby Ridge, the OKC Federal Building bombing, the Unabomber, and Atlanta Olympic park bombing). The catch phrases were “Represent” and “Keep It Real,” and your word was still your bond. If you talked it, you had to live it. The FED and individual states were still giving stupid amounts of time away for drug cases. Bill Clinton had the country flowing along real smooth like. Beepers were the chief form of mobile communication, and reefa was chocolate, skunk, chunky black, Cambodia, red haired sess, and a bunch of other names I’ve long forgotten. Whether you were in the projects in East Harlem or a private house in South Boston, Virginia, the vibe in Black America was pretty much the same. And it all congregated at a single location on Thursday nights.
FOX-TV has always been the quintessential avant-garde television station (excluding news), but it hit its apex in Black America in the mid ‘90s. In both my unbiased and biased opinion, “Martin” is the greatest sitcom in television history, with the slight nod over “Seinfeld,” “The Cosby Show,” and a few others. I objectively feel it is the best comedy ever, but it’s also my favorite show of all time, so I’m both unbiased and biased simultaneously. We all know Martin Lawrence is a genius, but what he and his camp put together for that five year run (minus the end when he and Tisha were feuding) has no parallel in the history of television. The comedy was fresh, urban, and hip hop. He made episodes that dealt with #RNS (real nigga shit), like ordering the fight and charging at the door, spending a whole damn day at the DMV, a Player of the Year Contest, and countless others that are a part of our culture forevermore. Damn it, he even fought the legendary Thomas “Hitman” Hearns in the ring. He personally transformed Flip Wilson’s Geraldine concept and adapted it to the times, making himself Sheneneh, a take no shit, slick talking ‘round the way girl with a good soul, as well as other unforgettable characters like the surly “Perfect Weapon” security guard Ole Otis, foul-mouthed, snotty nosed juvenile Roscoe, Blaxploitation movie legend King Beefy, inept martial arts instructor Dragonfly Jones, and the indelible Jerome, a self-professed player from the Himalayas. I could go on and on, but “Martin” is on television every day. If you don’t already know, you can see for yourself.
“Living Single” was more than just an excellent television show; it was an inspiration to women of color across the globe. Set in New York City, there were three young professional black women under one roof with a fourth who was always around. There was the media queen, the lawyer, the Diva, and the adorable comedic foil. Throw in two quirky male neighbors and you had a fresh view of New Jack Black America from a ‘90s perspective, chemistry on 100%. Much like “Martin,” the format of the show and the time period allowed for a plethora of guest stars which time stamped the period in popular culture. “Living Single,” again much like “Martin,” was an inspirational breath of fresh air. None of the ladies were promiscuous, none were on the “begging and pleading line,” and they were all educated. I’d say it was an accurate assessment of the state of Black women in America at the time, and an indelible piece of Black Americana.
9:00 on Thursday nights back when was the unquestioned showstopper, as “New York Undercover” graced our television screen. We had a first in television history: a duo of ethnic police set in midst primetime. There was the brother, Detective Williams, and the Boricua, Detective Torres, whose playground was uptown NYC (often East Harlem, home base for my family for 40 years). They were a complete shift from the image of the tight-assed, uniformed police or suit, tie, and fedora donned detective seen on television before. Their “covers” allowed them to be draped in the popular urban wear of the day (Tommy Hilfiger, Girbaud, Timberland, etc.). There was also a pretty but tough as nails female Boricua co-worker and a Caucasian, no nonsense female Lieutenant. Their hip hop musical scores (popular east coast rap music of the period) exploded onto the cold intros of each episode and were superfluous throughout. Popular and legendary R&B musical acts graced each episode via a fictitious night club named “Nathalie’s,” hangout for the detectives and their co-workers. The detectives dealt with issues not only pertinent to uptown NYC, but urban America as a whole at the time. Sadly, a bitter contract dispute between stars Malik Yoba and Michael DeLorenzo and the purse holders at FOX coupled with a decision by show execs to drastically shift the format of the show from ultra-urban to a mainstream feel permanently crippled the show, with the last couple of seasons being largely forgotten outside of syndication. Nevertheless, those first couple seasons left an indelible mark on urban culture that is still celebrated to the day; no other show since has even come close to its impact and legacy.
FOX television’s Thursday night lineup was indicative of the time period of the ‘90s in which hip hop and rap music had evolved from being the bastards of American culture to the celebrated Cinderella, as Madison Avenue and Hollywood both realized the power of the urban dollar. As soon as white kids adopted hip hop in large amounts, the powers that be quickly began to pay attention. I’m not at all mad at that, this helped to take hip hop and rap to the top of the globe. For those of us who go back to its humble origins and/or early stages, we, as the late BIG Fella said, “Never thought that hip hop would take it this far.” The FOX Thursday night lineup from the mid ‘90s deserves its due respect for its contribution to this success. I’m just thankful I was around for the original run.
Send any love/hate mail to email@example.com Leave a comment or three on our page; we love your feedback irrespective of its favor or lack thereof. Follow me on the Twitter @tymonday, as well as my brogod @themisterceizzo and our team @crewunB. While you’re on our site, check out our fly apparel; we’re the a la carte bon appetite. Love, infinite. We truly appreciate your support.