My first year in Hollywood, I was a seat filler at the Emmys and I was fortunate to land in a good seat that remained empty most of the night. But my excitement with sitting amongst the glitterati soon faded as I tired of the ridiculously long slog of the show. I vowed then that I would only return when I was a nominee.
That was 25 years ago. And since then the industry has changed a lot, but not much in terms of diversity and inclusion. Which sucks for me, because I am a Black woman. Working in Jim Crow Hollywood means remembering when Friends announced that they were going to hire a Black writer after being criticized for making New York look whiter than Idaho. They met with half of the Black writers in town, including me, then didn’t hire any of us. And when I finally landed my first gig on a non-Black show, Bette, I was demoted from supervising producer to producer because according to CBS’ business affairs, my Black-show credits weren’t worth as much as white-show credits. The showrunner, Jeffrey Lane, was bothered by that racist thinking and eventually bumped me back up to supervising producer. Most of the people I’ve worked with were just as decent and kind, but don’t get me started on the old white male showrunner who told me he was more of a Black woman than I was. So even though I was eligible to join the Academy, I resisted. Why give my hard-earned money to an organization that barely seems to recognize people of color? Being a member wouldn’t mean that I actually belonged.
Then I created a show called Family Reunion. It’s a sitcom based on a multigenerational African American family. I hired an all-Black writing staff along with one of the most (if not the most) diverse crews in town, which contributes to it being a very good show. Two episodes were nominated for the 2020 Writers Guild Awards in the children’s episodic, long form and specials category, and one won. We also won a 2020 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Children’s Program. Netflix is very proud of the show and submitted it in the children’s category for the Daytime Emmys. And if I wanted to vote for my show, it seemed like the time had come for me to join the Television Academy. So I did, as did all of the eligible writers on my staff. All have been writers for 15 or more years and, like me, none had ever joined the Academy. But we thought, this was our time. This show was our ticket to acceptance and the appreciation of mainstream Hollywood.
It was a surprise when the Academy decided to remove us from Daytime Emmy consideration to compete in the Primetime Emmys’ outstanding children’s program category. Their reasoning was that if we aired on network television, we would be programmed in primetime. While other similar shows didn’t receive this treatment, we had no choice and acquiesced. Therefore it was a shock when the Academy subsequently decided that Family Reunion was not even eligible for the Primetime Emmys’ children’s program category because they determined that even though it was made by Netflix’s Kids and Family division, and is subject to all of the restrictions that go along with creating content for children, they just didn’t think it really is a kids’ show. When I protested that Fuller House, another multigenerational show, (on which I was staffed during season three) was eligible for the category, I was told that it was “grandfathered in” because it competed in the category in the past.
Their use of that racially charged phrase made the situation all the more damning since it stems from the late 1800s, when a group of Southern states passed legislation that made it virtually impossible for Black people to vote. They created stringent requirements like poll taxes and literacy tests in order to even register to vote. But these states would exempt poor and illiterate whites from these new requirements if their grandfathers had voting rights before the Civil War. Of course few former slaves had such privileged ancestors.
In search of justice, I pressed the Academy for a peer review, and supposedly got it, with the answer remaining a hard “no.” I understand the Academy has the right to set its own rules, but when the rules keep arbitrarily changing and are applied unevenly, it’s little wonder I failed their literacy test. As a result, Family Reunion was forced into the best comedy category and instead of competing against the 15 programs in the children’s category, we’re lost in the sea of 111 best comedy potential nominees — shows that include such excellent adult fare as Ramy, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Schitt’s Creek and Insecure.
Was what happened to my show racism? I don’t know. The Academy’s curt emails provided very little detail as to how they came to their determination. What I do know is that Family Reunion was treated differently — dare I say, separate and unequally — than a similar white show. And while I wish Fuller House and all of the other children’s programming potential nominees all the best, I’ll be sitting out yet another Emmys ceremony, once again disenfranchised. To Hollywood at large, I say, do better, dammit. To the Television Academy, I say, give me my damn money back.
[Editor’s note: When asked for comment on the claims in this column, a Television Academy spokesperson replied, “When questions arise in regards to a program’s categorization, the Academy asks a panel of industry leaders to independently review the program. This is the same panel set up to review petitions requesting a move from Comedy to Drama or vice versa. In addition to Family Reunion, 14 other programs were reviewed this year.”]
Meg DeLoatch is the executive producer of Family Reunion, whose writing credits also include Fuller House, Family Matters, Malcolm & Eddie and Eve, among other series.