Black History Month Inspires Cable Nets



On the Schedule

Of course, it would be better to have black-history programming airing year-round. Still, programmers say, Black History Month is a good start.

"Black history is an integral part of American history, and, let's face it, for too many decades, it was ignored and overlooked," says Dr. Libby O'Connell, History Channel's resident historian. "It's a valuable part of our shared national story."

O'Connell says thematic months—besides Black History, for example, Hispanic Heritage month (Sept. 15-Oct. 15) and Women's History month (March)—go a long way to help educate viewers.

For African-American–themed networks like BET and TV One, every day is somehow about black history. Still, Black History Month draws more attention, and TV One, which is backed by minority-owned radio group Radio One and Comcast Cable, is stepping up with plenty of programming.

"The celebration goes on every day at TV One, and for the general media to do it for one month is wonderful," says TV One President Johnathan Rodgers.

Nearly every network is doing something (see list) The Hallmark Channel last week replayed classic miniseries Roots. Country Music Television is running a documentary about blacks' contributions to country music. Comedy Central plans to re-air its acclaimed special on black comics Heroes of Black Comedy, along with comedies like White Boys Can't Jump.

Some critics knock scheduling such entertainment fare as opportunistic. But O'Connell does not agree.

"This introduces people to the richness of African-American artists," she says. "You can't separate the history of pop culture and entertainment in this country from African-American history. You can't separate rock 'n' roll from black history."

In the future, O'Connell would like programmers to take a wider scope and not isolate ethnic and minority stories. For example, History Channel special The Alcan Highway
recounts the building of the 1,522-mile-long Alaska Highway during WWII. More than 11,000 workers labored on the highway, including 4,000 blacks. In the program, the black history is intertwined with the larger story.