Four African-American 'Girlfriends' take UPN primetime

A year after the networks were taken to task for grossly underrepresenting minorities in primetime, this fall’s series boast a little more diversity.

UPN’s “Girlfriends,” for example, follows the lives of four young, sophisticated African-American women–something that really hasn’t been seen in primetime since “Living Single.”

“I didn’t feel like I or my friends were represented on television,” says co-executive producer Mara Brock Akil. “A lot of times you see black women as the girlfriend or we’re responding to a man’s situation. We’re really never in control. And those images are coming along.”

“Girlfriends” stars famous offspring Tracy Ellis Ross as a 29-year-old attorney looking for love; Golden Brooks as her married assistant; Jill Marie Jones as a gold-digging real estate agent; Persia White as a professional student; and Reggie B. Hayes as Ross’ outspoken male colleague.

With its brash female characters and frank sex talk, “Girlfriends” has been described as an African-American “Sex and the City.”

“We prefer to think of ‘Sex and the City’ as the white ‘Girlfriends,'” jokes executive producer Mark Alton Brown. “It’s four stunning professional women who talk about sexuality quite a bit. So there’s homage, but there’s also homage to a lot of classic TV shows. One that comes to mind is ‘Mary Tyler Moore.'”

“Girlfriends” is also executive produced by Kelsey Grammer’s production company. Brown says Grammer has been “very hands-on behind the scenes.”

“He has committed his production company to finding the right vehicle,” Brown says. “He felt this was the one. He does his job quite well and he is on the set all the time telling us what to do.”

“Girlfriends” should benefit from a strong “The Hughleys” lead-in on Monday nights. That block, along with The WB’s Sunday night sked, is one of the few in primetime targeting African American viewers.

“I think before they even say it’s a black show, they’re going to say it’s a damn good show,” Akil says.

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