Iconic Black TV You Need to Watch

I began to learn about what it means to be Black in America starting at a very young age sitting in my living room in front of the TV. While my parents may have been African immigrants, I was still raised on Black American movies and television. My family would watch the television of the early 2000s, but also iconic sitcoms that date all the way back to the 1970s. Watching these TV shows taught me the struggles of being Black in America, but at the same time showed me Black joy and triumph despite the obstacles. It also showed me the diversity among Black people and that there is no one way to be Black.

Here are just a few iconic TV shows loved by Black people that you should really watch.


1. Sanford and Son (1972-1977)

via: Youtube

Fred Sanford was the cantankerous bigot, while his son Lamont Sanford was the peacemaker. Together they usually got involved in schemes to earn quick money. Known for its edgy racial humor, running gags, and catchphrases, Sanford and Son was the precursor to many other Black sitcoms to come.


2. Good Times (1974-1979)

via: Starz

Florida and James Evans live with their 3 children in the projects in a poor, black neighborhood in inner-city Chicago. Good Times deals with the characters' attempts to overcome poverty living in a high rise project building in Chicago. The show dealt with serious topics in a comedic way while giving audiences positive characters to identify with.


3. The Jeffersons (1975-1985)

via: TV Guide

The show follows the lives of George and Louise Jefferson, a successful Black couple that managed to move from Queens to Manhattan due to the success of George’s dry-cleaning business. While being a traditional sitcom, The Jeffersons dealt with topics such as alcoholism, racism, suicide, gun control, and being transgender. It was also the first show to have an interracial couple as a part of the main cast.


4. Diff’rent Strokes (1978-1986)

via: image sizer

The series focuses on two boys from Harlem, Arnold and Willis Jackson who are adopted by a rich, white widower Phillip Drummond and his daughter Kimberly. This is another show that deals with serious issues like racism, illegal drug use, kidnapping and child sexual abuse.


5. Different World (1987-1993)

via: Shadow League

The show was originally a spinoff from The Cosby Show where is followed Denise Huxtable and other students at Hillman College (a fictional HBCU). After the actress playing Denise left, the show continued to follow the other students focusing more on Southern belle Whiteley Gilbert and math genius Dwayne Wayne. The show dealt with race and class relations and how that affects student life at an HBCU. It was also one of the first American shows to address the HIV/AIDS epidemic.


6. In Living Color (1990-1994)

via: Screener TV

Featuring many of the Wayans family, In Living Color was a sketch comedy show with a majority black cast, unlike Saturday Night Live where the cast is predominantly white. The series produced comedy with a strong focus on Black subject matter. They were mainly known for parody of race relations in America.


7. Martin (1992-1997)

via: WBLS

The show is set in Detroit and focuses on Martin, a radio host, his girlfriend Gina and their friends. Being selfish and free-spirited, Martin causes all kinds of trouble with his behaviors and smart mouth towards his friends, neighbors, and literally anyone else. Despite this, Martin will do anything for his friends and family, even if it takes a while.


8. Living Single (1993-1998)

via: Amazon

Living Single follows the lives of 6 friends living the single life in a Brooklyn brownstone sharing their personal and professional lives. There are two different households featured, a trio of women live in one and a pair of male best friends live in the other (*cough cough* sound familiar?). Together they deal with all the life and love and occasionally sexual tension among the group (*cough cough* Friends ripped them off).


9. Smart Guy (1997-1999)

via: DVD Planet Store

The show stars Tahj Mowry as boy genius T.J. Henderson who jumps from being a fourth grader to going to the same high school as his two older siblings Yvette and Marcus at age 10. Each episode deals with some sort of misstep as he tries to fit in while dealing with the differences between his intelligence and his older brother’s underachieving streak.  


10. Girlfriends (2000-2008)

via: TV Guide

Girlfriends is an ensemble sitcom that follows a mixed group of black women who face life’s ups and downs together. Whether its dating woes or divorce, friends or family issues, Joan, Maya, Lynn and Toni support each other despite their differences, and they learn more and more about true friendship in the process.