What the Hell Was CNN Thinking?

'D.L. Hughley Breaks the News' Sets Us Back 20 Years

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Pepper Miller Pepper Miller
I love D.L. Hughley. The man is funny as hell and smart. I've seen his stand-up routine live and on HBO. I really got into him from his frequent guest appearances on "Politically Incorrect." Always insightful, quick-witted and with that no-nonsense street humor, I was hooked. In fact, I liked him on Bill Maher's show maybe even more than his stand-up. I was impressed with his knowledge and insights about the political landscape; albeit raw at times, his comments were spot-on. So when CNN announced that it was producing a show for him -- "D.L. Hughley Breaks the News" -- I was right there. "Good move," I thought as I envisioned a Larry King one-on-one or Bill Maher-type group discussion format.

So hubby and I got ourselves situated for the Sunday-night viewing. And what a disappointment. I didn't make it through the first 30 minutes. I was through when I saw "Freddie Mac" the pimp character sharing his "pimps up/hos down" financial comments. I was literally shaking as I ran to the computer to log on to CNN and to ask them: "What the hell were you thinking?"

In the New York Times, Dave Itzkoff praised CNN for taking news less seriously and underscored CNN's intent to "capitalize on an increasingly younger, increasingly diverse television audience that has been tuning in, gripped by the 2008 presidential election."

Seems to me that if this audience was already tuning in to CNN's real news, why did the network have to go to such extreme measures to keep them? Why does CNN believe that youth intellect -- and particularly Black youth intellect -- has to be couched in buffoonery and stereotypes to be relevant? Importantly, CNN has turned off a lot of its loyal Black (and White) boomer viewers -- many of whom appreciate and love D.L. as much as I do.

CNN: What were you thinking?

It's as if D.L. -- a comedian whose stand-up routines are focused on Black life, a former L.A. gang member and an actor who starred in his own family sitcom ("The Hughleys," which ran from 1998 to 2002) -- was apparently not quite Black enough for CNN. So CNN threw in some Black stereotypes like Freddie Mac to enhance D.L.'s blackness so that the show would attract the younger, not-so-race-conscious viewer. Unbelievable!

Those first few minutes immediately took me back to 1987 and Robert Townsend's satire "Hollywood Shuffle." The movie focuses on Bobby Taylor, an actor who dreams of making it big as a respected performer, but is limited to stereotypical roles. As IMDB puts it, "As Bobby makes his rounds, the film takes a satiric look at African-American actors in Hollywood." I particularly recall the scene where the director is trying to get Taylor to act "more Black." There was also a scene of a commercial for the "Black Acting School." Honestly, I saw no difference in Townsend's message and D.L.'s show. CNN and D.L. took the Black community back 20 years with this one.

I agree that CNN should reach out to a younger audience. I don't begrudge them for wanting to use an approach that is relevant to them. But c'mon, they have gone too far.

I'm not alone in my opinion. Boyce Watkins, one of the most highly sought-after African-American scholars and Black social commentators, wrote a rather scathing review and commentary about D.L.'s show. Wrote Watkins in D.L. Hughley's Def (and Dumb) Comedy Jam on CNN:
"D.L. Hughley Breaks the News" was something I simply cannot forgive. I am a loyal fan of Katt Williams, Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle, Richard Pryor, Wanda Sykes, Eddie Murphy and other cutting-edge and incredibly talented comedians. I don't wear my "Black Panther hat" everywhere I go, and I have as many guilty pleasures as anyone when it comes to laughing about things that might be considered offensive. I also say this as a moderate fan of Def Comedy Jam. ... The truth of the matter is that there must be a point where the line is drawn, like realizing that you don't put a porn shop inside a church or bring a gun to a baby shower. It is amazing that CNN would sign off on this show right before such an historic and politically sacred event sending a clear message to African Americans that the only way to get their attention is to "be really black and make us laugh."
Additionally, I could not find one of my peers who connected with the show.

Watkins and some of my friends want the baby thrown out with the bathwater. I disagree. CNN should keep D.L. I say get a newsy format but allow D.L. to be his authentic self. He's hot, engaging, raw and relevant when he's sharing his opinions one-on-one or in a group discussion.

As it stands now, none of this works for D.L., the CNN brand or the Black community.
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