I’m thinking maybe I ought to post occasionally pieces about forgotten black TV shows from the past. Maybe it’s my imagination, compared to what we have today, there seemed to be a lot more black TV series back in the day. And there was a diversity in them too, from sit-coms to dramas. Not all of them were great (not even remotely) or were hits, but at least they were there.
Nowadays, it seems what passes for Black TV is designed, for the most part, to make black people look like complete fools. (Which I personally believe is a sinister conspiracy to dull the minds of the masses) But in going back to old TV shows, it’s refreshing to see what was or what could have been at one time. So here’s one from the past you either have never heard about or have long forgotten. I’m talking about Tenafly.
The NBC series was part of an unusual programming experiment in 1973 when the network rotated 90-minute four mystery shows, a different one every week, for the NBC Mystery Movie on Wednesday nights.
This meant that you had to wait a month before a show you saw and liked came back around. Not surprisingly, none of the rotating shows found an audience and the NBC Mystery Movie was a ratings disaster. All the shows were cancelled, including Tenafly which lasted only four episodes from the fall of 1973 to January 1974.
In the show James McEachin played the titled character, an ex-cop now working as a private detective. The show itself was basically nothing special and was pretty much typical of other similar detective crime shows of the time. But what made Tenafly so unique was that it wasn’t.
Despite the fact the lead was black neither he, nor the show, was slick, hip or cool. It was rather square. Tenafly, as you can see from the clip below for the first episode, was just an ordinary working stiff, trying to make a living to take care of his family and keep a roof over their heads.
The fact that he was black, as well as the issue of race, was not a major issue on the show and, in fact, some white TV and black cultural critics criticized the show at the time because they felt the character wasn’t “black” or “angry” enough for them. But the show, for its brief run, had a major impact.
In a recent interview in Shock Cinema magazine, McEachin said, about the show, that he “grossly underestimated the power of television. I didn’t know how important it was to black people. I totally overlooked that.”
Which just goes to show you… Things are so bad today that a show like Luther is important because, not only is it a terrific show, but also, it’s proof of the absolute lack of diversity in what passes for black TV today.
So despite the fact that it’s not one of the great TV shows of all time, Tenafly, in its own little way, becomes more valuable to us in our current age.