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Black News and News Makers in History: Sitcom Julia

Black news from Pasadena - Black News and News Makers in History recognizes the premier of the sitcom 'Julia'Julia, a half-hour comedy premiering on NBC in September 1968, was an example of American network television's attempt to address race issues during a period of heightened activism and turmoil over the position of African-Americans in U.S. society. The series was the first to star a black performer in the leading role since Beulah, Amos 'n' Andy, and The Nat "King" Cole Show all left the air in the early and mid-1950s. By the mid-1960s, a number of prime-time series began featuring blacks in supporting roles, but industry fears of mostly southern racial sensibilities discouraged any bold action by the networks to more fully represent African-Americans in entertainment television. Series creator, Hal Kanter, a Hollywood liberal and broadcasting veteran whose credits included writing for the Beulah radio show in the 1940s, initiated Julia's challenge to what remained of television's colour bar. Kanter had attended a luncheon organized by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and been inspired enough to propose the project to NBC. The network agreed to run the show, but programmers did not expect it to do well since it was scheduled opposite the hugely popular Red Skelton Show. The show proved to be a surprise hit, however, jumping into the top ten list of most watched programs during its first year, and continuing to be moderately successful during its remaining two seasons on the air.

The series revolved around the lives of Julia Baker, (Diahann Carroll) a widowed black nurse and her young son, Corey (Marc Copage). Julia's husband had been killed in a helicopter crash in Vietnam, and the series began with the now fatherless Baker family moving into an integrated apartment building in Los Angeles while Julia secured employment at the medical offices of Astrospace Industries. She worked with a gruff but lovable elderly white physician, Dr. Chegley (Lloyd Nolan), and a homely but spirited white nurse, Hannah Yarby. Julia's closest friends were her white neighbors, the Waggedorns--Marie, a scatter-brained housewife; Len, a police officer; and Earl J. Waggedorn, their son and Corey's pal. While Julia lived in an almost exclusively white environment, she managed to find a series of impeccably refined African-American boyfriends. Paul Winfield played one of her more long-standing romantic partners. Performed with elegance and dignity by Carroll, Julia represented a completely assimilated--and thoroughly non-stereotyped--African-American image to prime-time viewers.

Julia's unthreatening respectability served as the basis for a great deal of heated debate during the series' initial run. In the midst of growing political militancy among many African-Americans, some critics accused the show of presenting Julia as a "white Negro." Nothing in the Bakers' lives indicated that they were in any way connected to the rich tradition of black culture and history. Neither Julia nor Corey was ever the victim of racism. However, Hal Kanter emphasized that the show did attempt to emphasize the more "humorous aspects" of prejudice and discrimination, while focusing on how the black characters attempted "to enjoy the American dream." Humorous situations dealing with race tended to work to defuse anxieties about racial difference. For instance, in her initial telephone interview with Dr. Chegley in the series' pilot, Julia mentions that she is black. Chegley deadpans: "Have you always been black--or are you just being fashionable?" When little Earl J. Waggedorn sees Corey's mother for the first time, he points out, "Hey, your mother's colored." Corey replies, matter-of-factly, "Yeah, so am I." To which Earl responds: "You are?!"

The show was also criticized for presenting no male head of the family. While the Bakers were emphatically middle-class, living in a beautifully appointed apartment rather lavish for a nurse's salary, the fact that an unattached black mother ran the family appeared to perpetuate stereotypes about a "black matriarchy" in which black men had no place. A recurring problem in the Baker household was who would care for Corey while Julia was at work. Several episodes dealt with Julia's dilemma in securing a mother's helper. Unwittingly and quite unself-reflexively, the show was echoing a painful aspect of the history of black women, many of whom had to leave their children unattended while they went off to care for white children and work as domestics in white establishments.

While these depictions of race relations generated objections, they also elicited praise from critics and viewers. Ebony, a mass circulation magazine targeted at a middle-class black readership, lauded the series for giving viewers an alternative to the steady diet of ghetto riot images of blacks so pervasive on news programming. The show was also commended for representing black characters who were not thoroughly and exclusively defined by race.

Julia was an important moment in American broadcasting history as television programmers struggled to find a way to introduce African-Americans into entertainment formats without relying on objectionable old stereotypes, but also without creating images that might challenge or discomfort white audiences.  ~Aniko Bodroghkozy

CAST
Julia Baker........................................ Diahann Carroll
Dr. Morton Chegley .................................Lloyd Nolan
Marie Waggedorn................................... Betty Beaird
Corey Baker.......................................... Marc Copage
Earl J. Waggedorn................................. Michael Link
Melba Chegley....................................... Mary Wickes
Sol Cooper .................................................Ned Glass
Carol Deering (1968-1969)................... Allison Mills
Hannah Yarby (1968-1970)................Lurene Tuttle
Eddie Edson ..........................................Eddie Quillan
Paul Cameron (1968-1970)................Paul Winfield
Len Waggedorn..................................... Hank Brandt
Steve Bruce (1970-1971)................Fred Williamson
Roberta (1970-1971)............................Janear Hines
Richard (1970-1971)..........................Richard Steele
Kim Bruce (1970-1971)................Stephanie James

Producers:                  Hal Kanter, Harold Stone

Programming History:  86 Episodes

NBC:                         September 1968-January 1971     Tuesday 8:30-9:00
                                 January 1971-May 1971               Tuesday 7:30-8:00

Article from http://www.museum.tv/eotvsection.php?entrycode=julia

 
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Black News and News Makers in History

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