How dare VH1 do this to me?
The network announced a new reality show called “What Chili Wants” featuring Rozonda Thomas, aka, Chilli from TLC. But unlike the network’s usual minstrel show black-themed reality show, Flava of Love, this show will feature Thomas doing not-skeezy/disgusting things and instead, leading a healthy, balanced life.
The cable network synonymous with “Flavor of Love” and its sleazy spin-offs is trading trampiness for fabulousness with a new slate of series starring seemingly well-adjusted rich and famous black Americans. VH1 executive vice president Jeff Olde admits that the shift from oh-no-they-didn’t fare to more mature material is totally intentional.
“We constantly have to evolve and tell our audience different stories,” he says. “I love that we’ve been able to get more diverse with our audience by — in large part — attracting African-American women to the network. We got them in the door with some shows, and now I’m excited about where we’re going and how we’re telling them different kinds of stories.”
For the notoriously trashy VH1, it’s not reality as usual. While cat fights will flare up with the “Basketball Wives” and Chilli promises a tiff with her sassy matchmaker on “What Chilli Wants,” these new shows certainly aren’t selling buzzworthy moments akin to “Flavor of Love” contestants spiting on each other or suddenly defecating on the floor.
Because who doesn’t want to see adults shitting on travertine?
Olde dismisses any past criticisms of “Flavor of Love” and its offspring, mostly produced by 51 Minds Entertainment, by calling the franchise ignited by black rapper Flavor Flav and his multiracial harem “big fun romantic comedies.” (Olde confirms that “I Love Money 3,” featuring murder suspect and suicide victim Ryan Jenkins, as well as the Jenkins-free “I Love Money 4” won’t air.)
Big, fun, romantic comedies? Hmm, I didn’t think that ILM was much like Love, Actually. But maybe I was wrong.
“The new VH1 shows offer a different take on the black reality TV star,” says Imani Perry, a professor at Princeton University’s Center for African American Studies. “These are images of wealthy black families. These shows may potentially be less stereotypic because they present a different, higher status black image.”
And that’s where it gets dicey for Oreos.
Being an Oreo requires constant reminders of what’s wrong with being an RBP. How am I supposed to curse the image in the mirror if major networks stop their usual fare and start showing dreck like Chili’s show?
Also, am I wrong in using context clues to assume that in his first quote, Jeff Olde asserts that VH1 attracted the new viewers of color he mentions with shows like Flava? Is he saying that there’s really no way to get the attention of RBP apart from a 3+ season long parade of important ethnic archetypes like New York having her toes sucked by a thug. I think so. And that’s why I’m an Oreo.
But there is a silver lining:
Bill Graff, an analyst for cable media analysis firm CableU, says the strategy isn’t a surefire winner. While the new shows are targeted to an underserved audience, they require more of an investment from viewers, especially if they don’t care about the personal lives of such B-list celebrities as Chilli and Brandy, or any of those “Basketball Wives.”
“It’s a little bit more of a leap for VH1 viewers than ‘Flavor of Love,’ ‘Rock of Love’ and the other shows,” says Graff. “Anyone who watches VH1 definitely knows and is entertained by Flavor Flav and New York. Anyone who is familiar with hip-hop from the past 25 years knows Pepa from Salt-N-Pepa, but they may not necessarily care about her love life.”
So, the slightly Oreo version of the black reality star might not work? Perfect. Because I have invested a lot of time in my self loathing and I’d hate to see it dashed by changing norms.