Zook, a television and film columnist with the hip-hop magazine The Source, details how in American television, ethnicity, gender, and race are marketable commodities just like beer and apple pie. Take the Fox Network. Seizing on the popularity of NBC's The Cosby Show, Fox, then a fledgling network launched in 1986, targeted a black viewership——the Nike and Doritos audience," as someone in Zook's book put it. It flooded the airwaves with shows like Martin, Living Single, New York Undercover, Roc, and many more. And through those programs it reaped a bonanza. But then it decided to go mainstream, and these shows with largely black audiences, some of which were becoming "issue-oriented," had to go. Besides, baseball and football not only guaranteed a larger audience but provided a better mix, according to Zook. Fox was not alone. Others tried to "outfox Fox." Warner Bros.(WB) and United Paramount (UPN) have launched their networks using the Fox formula, the author says. This is by and large a splendid effort, and one hates to quibble. But there are at least two places where weaknesses show. Zook's book began as a doctoral dissertation and thus with some high- minded notions of what so-called black television was trying to do. Suffice it to say that Zook is on far more solid ground when she sticks to straight reporting as opposed to when she tries to apply literary theories to workaday situations in television. Also, Zook seems to have had unusually good access to virtually all the stars and top production personnel for all of the shows. Most of the staffers are black, and those who are not and are quoted are inclined to agree with Zook's basic thesis. Zook could, for example, have reached out to Fox owner Rupert Murdoch. At worst he would have said "no comment." Sometimes no comment is worth a thousand words.
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