What Eastside High and The CW Have in Common


Remember the opening scenes of Lean on Me, where an afro-and-dashiki-clad Joe Clark gets fired and goes storming down the well-lit hall, his bell bottoms swishing dramatically along the freshly buffed floor? “This place deserves exactly what it gets,” he fumes. Then, the scene transitions to Eastside of the ’80s, with its broken hallway lights, dingy walls, and grafittied lockers.

Yeah. Girlfriends is a lot like that. Just substitute Jill Marie Jones for Morgan Freeman and The CW for Eastside.

Now we know where you think we’re going with this—particularly after the sacred cow tipping that was our Cosby Show* commentary last week.

But we’re not going to dig into Girlfriends‘ merit as a television show. We won’t critique the storytelling or talk bad about Golden Brooks’ twiggy legs or Tracee Ellis Ross’ increasingly shrewish delivery as Joan or all the screen time given to Persia White’s pursuit of a singing career.

Nah, we’re not interested in any of that—not right now. The fact is: Its assets and shortcomings aside, Girlfriends broke records. Never before had a primetime television program employed four Black actresses (or focused solely on four Black women’s stories) for 172 episodes, over eight seasons. Those stories ranged from subjects as varied as AIDS, chlamydia, and infidelity to bipolar disorder, interracial adoption, and miscarriage. Now, folks could spend hours at dinner parties arguing about whether or not all the show’s subject matter was deftly handled, but in the wake of its cancellation last week, now seems an inopportune time to split hairs.

The fact is: no matter how high-brow you may be, chances are you’ve tuned into at least one episode of Girlfriends over the past eight years, whether in primetime or in syndication, and found yourself entertained. From its first seasons of struggling to find its stride, while enduring the indiginities of unforgivably bad hair weave, makeup, and wardrobe to its middle years, where the show worked best balancing sudsy, high drama and subtler comic digs to its more recent years, where again, it’s found itself struggling to regain its stride in the wake of losses (both of its original network, UPN, and one of its most popular co-stars, Jill Marie Jones), Girlfriends is a show that just enough people remained loyal to—even when the episodes reeeeally started to get boring in these last couple of seasons—to be renewed year after improbable year.

Rewarding that loyalty with an unceremoniously abrupt cancellation seems pretty unfair. Arguably, no one really cared how it was gonna turn out for Joan. Would she and Richard T. Jones ever make it to the altar or would he die in Iraq? Would Monica’s pregnancy send Maya down the road of prescription or clinical therapy in the wake of the latter’s miscarriage? Would the real Jabari ever return in a cameo? Would Lynn ever “find herself?” Was Toni planning on forgiving Joan, even if she never moved back to California?

If these questions seem a little dry—and you find yourself dozing off as you start thinking through possible answers–it’s because Girlfriends fell way, way off in its CW years. Ratings had never been as low as they were in season eight–and even longtime fans were beginning to view the show as a way to kill time before The Game (a livelier, younger Girlfriends spinoff about the women beside the stars of a professional football team) aired. Even so, when a show surpasses 100 episodes, it deserves a proper putting-away. That’s just good TV etiquette. The CW’s treatment of Girlfriends portends its demise as a formidable network player. Its lineup is laughable, ratings-wise, aside from the introduction of Gossip Girl this year. Even Smallville, currently in its seventh season, has suffered under the CW regime. The company gave the shaft If the network can’t begin to find some good faith money to provide respectable ends to the shows that have driven its “success” since its inception, we can very well expect it to close its doors by decade’s end.

* Incidentally, Girlfriends is tied with The Cosby Show as the longest-running series with an African-American show creator in television history.


slb (aka Stacia L. Brown) is a writer, mother, and college instructor in Baltimore, MD. Check her out here: http://stacialbrown.com and here: http://beyondbabymamas.com.
  • LH

    I caught a few episodes of Girlfriends (if I was at my then girlfriend’s flat) and thought they were at least serviceable.

    I agree that the cast deserved better. Eight seasons and 172 episodes is no fluke.

  • Stacia: I’m pretty sure Family Matters was the longest-running show with a black cast. Lemme check.

  • slb

    Gene: I meant longest-running African American-created series. I’ll edit.

  • Stacia: You’re right. The Jeffersons is the longest-running show with a black cast; Family Matters is second.

  • I used to watch all of those shows on UPN and the CW when I was younger. It would have been nice to have a series finale, but I don’t think I can stomach seeing Golden Brooks weave for another 22 minutes.

  • I will never be mistaken for a Girlfriends fan. But to just ax a show with that kind of legacy under these circumstances is beyond unconscionable.

    The fans need to let CW know. Loudly…and relentlessly.

  • ladyboss09

    NBC did the same to Scrubs. after 6 1/2 seasons. after having begged Zack Braff to do one last (shortened) season. the networks are getting cold. scratch that, the networks are getting brazen.

  • Tasha

    didn’t living single have 100 episodes? also had 4 women (two main male as well)

  • MisterVee28

    is there a black sitcom that has ever gotten a warm send off other than Cosby? Just curious.