TV critic Eric Deggans’ highlighted a peculiar pattern occurring this Fall on the current television line up. Of the 27 new shows on Network TV, White actors play mostly all the lead characters – no surprise there. However, Deggans has observed these networks to add a dash of color on these programs by way of presenting the “Black Best Friend”: a multi-functional illusion of diversity designed to prop up the lead character, move the storyline forward, while lacking a solid storyline of their own.

On NPR’s Morning Edition on Tuesday, Deggans ‘called out’ the BBF trend on the tube:

“I didn’t invent this term, but I first heard of the Black best friend in 2007, used to describe most roles for African-American actresses on television. Think Aisha Tyler on “Ghost Whisperer” or Wanda Sykes in just about every acting role she’s ever had. They have little purpose beyond supporting the show’s White star. Their specialty: wise advice, delivered with a dash of sass and the occasional finger snap.”

The TV critic continued, “For a BBF, this is job one: patiently explaining the magic of life to their White best friend, in ways only a cool, non-white person can. In reality, BBF’s are often a diversity head fake – a quick way to make the casts of TV shows look racially diverse, without taking time to create real characters of color with storylines all their own.” Deggans went on to say, “And this year, there’s so many BBFs around, you can divide them by types. There’s the sidekick best black friend, whose entire purpose seems to be echoing and aiding the White star. This is exemplified by Russell Hornsby on NBC’s new cop drama ‘Grimm.’ He doesn’t really get a scene to himself. But Hornsby’s Hank Griffin works overtime in the background…”

Arguably his most accurate – and disappointing – example is celebrated actor Russell Hornsby. The ultra-manly thespian who once headlined in ABC Family’s successful series Lincoln Heights, and knocked it out the box in HBO’s drama series In Treatment, is reduced to a low key cheerleader in his latest endeavor. A catch 22 for Hornsby fans, and discerning Black audience members, as a talent like his may be too great to ignore but dynamic to diminish. According to Deggans, this unfortunate trend of Oscar and Emmy nominees stuck in sub-par, sidekick roles is widespread on the major Networks, but could this be a perspective from the ‘glass half empty’ standpoint? An argument could be made that the BBF is a small step forward, giving worthy Black actors some shine on these culturally starved Network programs in the short-term.

The case of former SNL star Maya Rudolph proves there is some hope for the Black Best Friend, Deggans suggests. Rudolph’s character which was upgraded from “boss BBF” (in her case, Bi-racial Best Friend) on NBC’s Up All Night has developed to actually carry its own storyline. With some optimism, Deggans adds,So take heart: If Rudolph can make the upgrade from Black best friend to well-rounded co-star, so can other BBFs. And once these characters are people rather than plot devices, imagine how much better these shows might become.”











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  • Val

    Mya Rudolf’s character was upgraded because she was in the film Bridesmaids, which did well.

  • alrightnow

    so true.. is it wrong to put a black character lead w/a black friend.. like damn.. 1 black character does not make the show diverse..

    • well didnt will smith say something about 2 black people (especially a black couple) have people automatically thinking its a “black movie/show” and therefore people will not watch it cause they’ll assume that its gonna be ghetto,tyler perry-ish and only relateable to black people.

      unfortunately i’ve noticed that happen.

  • Reason did sketch about this a few months ago.

  • whilome

    But looka here: when we berate shows like “Friends” for not having black friends in NY, we seem to be ignoring a very simple fact: America is still socially segregated. I know PLENTY of black folks who don’t kick it with white people in their off hours. And I am dang sure the majority of white folks wouldn’t be able to say a black person has ever sat on their couch.
    What we are lamenting is a lack of Black faces on the tv, while ironically not acknowledging that there is an Asian, Latino, or Indian person with a WHOLE lot more to complain about as far as representation. We need to get out the whole Black/White dichotomy anyway, seeing as we are only 12 percent of the population.
    Let’s get our own. I’d much rather throw support to Reed Between the Lines where black folk are the MAIN characters, than suck my teeth about where they are in supporting roles. We have to support our own art. We have to make our own art. Dang, I’m tired of this conversation…

    • THANKYOU!! i mentioned that in another post. i would like to see more diversity PERIOD on tv. its making me soo happy that on “terra nova” they have an indian woman as one of the main characters. FINALLY! not some damn blonde being the center of attention like always.

      asian people complain a lot about not being represented and about race bending, which is when they use a story that calls for ethnic people, but they cast all white people (ie.the last airbender,prince of persia,extraordinary measures) because supposedly caucasian people are more marketable.

      this article confuses me.. like a lot of things in black culture. how do you complain about black people not being in movies…. but then once they DO put black/other in movies and tv shows then the people are accused of tokenism. WTF DO YOU WANT!?!?!

    • whilome

      “What do we want?” Something to blog about…
      We chew and rechew the same “woe-is-us-THEY-won’t-give-us-nuthin” gristle all over the interwebs, like a cow chewing cud. We need to focus on uplifting and progressing, on issues that relate to our success and artistic achievements. Seriously scanning the web for a more positive forum. For real.

  • Girl

    Black men are especially great for this, even in real life LOL.