7 Network Television Shows Starring Black Women

Hattie McDaniel and Meagan Good have had this privilege

Television shows starring black women have been few and far between on the Big 3 television networks, but that changed after the success of ABC's "Scandal," which paved the way for a number of black women to appear on television. Learn which shows starring black predated "Scandal" and about the programs that followed. Seven such television shows make this list, spanning in time from 1950 to the present.

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Beulah (1950)

Hattie McDaniel
Actress Hattie McDaniel starred as "Beulah.". Kate Gabrielle/Flickr.com

ABC sitcom “Beulah,” which started as a CBS Radio show, has the distinction of being the first network show to star a black actress. “Beulah” is about a maid who has a knack for fixing her employers’ problems. The legendary singer and Broadway star Ethel Waters was the first actress to play the lead role.

She left in 1951, and Oscar winner Hattie McDaniel and “Imitation of Life” star Louise Beavers filled in as “Beulah” until the television show’s cancellation in 1952. The show has faced wide criticism for perpetuating racial stereotypes about blacks, notably that black women are mammies who enjoy caretaking and nurturing whites.

Diahann Carroll autographed headshot
Diahann Carroll starred in "Julia.". Tinker Tailor/Flickr.com

NBC sitcom “Julia” broke ground in 1968 for being the first network show to feature a black actress in a non-stereotypical. In the comedy, Diahann Carroll plays a widowed nurse raising her young son. It marked one of the rare times the viewing public had the opportunity to see a black woman play a working professional rather than a domestic.

Still, “Julia” had detractors for ignoring the social realities blacks found themselves in during the turbulent 1960s. During this time racial turmoil and civil unrest engulfed countless black communities, not to mention economic and educational barriers. “Julia” ran until 1971. More »

Teresa Graves
Teresa Graves starred in "Get Christie Love!". ABC

ABC’s “Get Christie Love!” got its start after a television miniseries of the same name became a hit after airing in January 1974. Starring Teresa Graves as Christie Love, the show was about a female police detective who goes undercover to try to thwart a drug ring.

The success of woman-centric blaxploitation films such as “Coffy” and “Foxy Brown” reportedly paved the way for “Get Christie Love!” The television show didn’t last long, however. ABC canceled it in 1975. More »

Kerry Washington
Kerry Washington stars in "Scandal.". David Shankbone/Flickr.com

ABC’s “Scandal” debuted to much fanfare in April 12, given that it was the first time in more than 30 years that a television show starring a black actress appeared on a major television network. Starring Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope, “Scandal” is about a woman who runs a crisis management firm that the powerful and elite trust to solve their problems, including murders and extramarital affairs.

The problem is that Olivia is involved in a scandal of her own—a secret romance with married U.S. president Fitzgerald Grant. This ongoing scandal and the scandals that ensnare those in Olivia’s circle create constant tension and high drama.

While “Scandal” has its critics, especially viewers who object to Olivia’s romance with the president, the hour-long drama created by Shonda Rhimes has become a bona fide hit for ABC. More »

Actress Meagan Good
Meagan Good starred in "Deception" in 2013. Cris Mateski/Flickr.com

When NBC’s “Deception”—starring African-American actress Meagan Good—debuted in January 2013, the show immediately drew comparisons to “Scandal.” Good stars in “Deception” as San Francisco police officer Joanna Locasto, who’s working undercover to solve the mysterious death of her childhood best friend, Vivian Bowers.

Joanna grew up in the Bowers household because her mother worked as a servant for the powerful family. When the show begins, Joanna returns to the Bowers estate to help the FBI determine the perpetrator responsible for Vivian’s death. This creates a conflict of interest for Joanna because she was once involved in secret romance with Vivian’s brother Julian, who still carries a torch for her.

Joanna suspects, however, that Julian may have been involved in Vivian’s death. More of a primetime soap than a political drama such as “Scandal,” critics had mixed reactions to “Deception,” with some taking issue with the show for failing to address race and class substantively.

The show did not live to see a second season. More »

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Extant 2014

Actress Halle Berry
Halle Berry starred in "Extant.". Floyd B. Bariscale/Flickr.com

Halle Berry starred as astronaut Molly Woods in CBS' "Extant," a sci-fi drama with some suspense thrown in for good measure.

When Woods returns from her space mission, she discovers that she's pregnant but has no idea how her pregnancy occurred. She also has to face a husband and android son to whom she initially feels disconnected.

"Extant" lasted for two seasons before its cancellation in 2015.

Actress Viola Davis
Viola Davis stars in "How to Get Away With Murder.". ABC-Disney Television Group/Flickr.com

This legal drama starring Viola Davis debuted in 2014. It focuses on lawyer and law professor Annalise Keating (Davis) and the morally questionable situations in which she and the law students she employs find themselves.

ABC comes on right after "Scandal," but "Murder" has arguably garnered more critical acclaim, including an Emmy for Davis in 2015. It marked the first a black woman took home the prize for acting in a lead role. More »