BC Beat

Second Act for 'Black in America'

7/21/2009 05:48:39 PM

While CNN’s first installment of the in-depth Black in America sought to explore the struggles and challenges facing the black community in the 2000s, Black in America 2 focuses on black leaders who are working to create solutions for some of the most pervasive problems facing segments of the community. The four-hour series runs in two two-hour installments Wednesday starting at 9 p.m. and Thursday at 8 p.m.

“The first documentary was asking the question ‘Where do we stand today?’ Now we’re asking, ‘What are people doing that’s successful?’ said series host and reporter Soledad O’Brien, in an interview with B&C.

Wednesday night’s episode, “Tomorrow’s Leaders,” looks at dynamic black leaders such as John Rice, founder of Management Leadership for Tomorrow, a program that works to put black professionals in senior leadership positions in corporate America; Steve Perry, principal of Hartford’s Capital Preparatory Magnet School, whose “tough love” helped send 100% of last year’s graduating seniors on to four-year colleges; and Malaak Compton-Rock, wife of comedian Chris Rock, whose Journey for Change program recently took a group of inner-city students in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn, N.Y., on a two-week service trip to South Africa.

Thursday’s program, “Today’s Pioneers” looks at community organizers and black leaders around the country who are improving social conditions locally, as well as providing replicable models for other communities to take up the mantle of their success. O’Brien interviews actor, director, and playwright Tyler Perry and explores the Black Marriage Day project, which works with black couples to develop strong family relationships.

“People, after the first one, said to me…’Ok we get the issues, we get the concerns, we get the problems, but what do we do?’ So we started looking into people doing projects that were successful but were also replicable and scalable,” O’Brien said.

Notably absent from the screener is the most prominent black American leader, Barack Obama. “He wasn’t in the first one and he won’t be in the second one for very simple reasons,” O’Brien said. “Black in America isn’t just about Barack Obama.” O’Brien said the series is more interested in exploring the experiences of blacks within the context of a culture in which a black man was elected president.

The first Black in America, which aired in July 2008, was a ratings winner for CNN, with a two-night average of 2.3 million total viewers and 1.1 million in the 25-54 demo. It posted large increases against its year-to-date time slot average.

Before the airing of the series last year, O’Brien said, CNN Worldwide President Jim Walton called her to say, “I’ve seen it, it looks great and…if this thing doesn’t get ratings you should still be proud.” Still, O’Brien admitted to anxiously anticipating the ratings returns. While she may have similar jitters this week, the “In America” brand’s success has already led CNN to announce the next special, Latino in America which is slated to air in October.

Below: Black in America 2 executive producer Mark Nelson discusses the stories featured in the series.

Mark Nelson, ‘Black in America’ executive producer from Broadcasting & Cable on Vimeo.