Recently, Tyler Perry sent a message to his fans via his Website in part trumpeting the monumental success of his TV show House of Payne. The show had just celebrated its 210th episode, a feat the movie/TV mogul was eager to file in the annals of black TV history.
“Let me just put this in perspective for you,” Perry wrote. “House of Payne has done more episodes than Good Times, more episodes than Sanford and Son, and even more episodes than The Cosby Show. The Jeffersons is the only show of this genre to have more episodes. Ella and Curtis are running a close second to George and Weezie. ”
Only, within this celebratory note about numbers was Perry’s lack of an in-depth mention about any creative value he feels his series has. Maybe a thought on the show’s connection to its audience or what his characters mean to loyal viewers. (A difficult question to ask or answer considering there are no Black shows on network TV and—excluding salacious reality shows—only a half-handful on cable.). But it’s an important thought given Perry’s eagerness to think of his series in the context of iconic Black sitcoms.
In comparison, consider the ground these shows broke when they aired. Sanford and Son turned a crotchety junk dealer and his son into the biggest Black TV sitcom duo since the cancellation of The Amos ‘n Andy Show. Good Times transformed the impoverished Evans family into America’s ghetto storytellers and cultural tour guides. The Jeffersons were America’s first beloved upper middleclass Black family before The Cosby Show turned Bill Cosby into America’s dad.
While House of Payne has a viewership of 1.2 million, the series has yet to establish what its footprint will mean in the pantheon of TV history. Given the show hasn’t made the cultural impact of a cable smash like The Sopranos or a network hit like, say, Martin its hard to gauge what will be the show’s legacy.
So the question that has to be asked is: Although Perry’s TV acumen produces sizable numbers and historic business deals, will he produce something on the small screen that reaches beyond the fact that he did it, did it big and, mainly because of that fact, it’s great.