July 21, 2002


Timeline by Tim Books

A question frequently raised is why African-Americans and other minorities have so seldom been the leads in TV dramatic series. For many years minorities were seen often headlining comedy and variety shows (Amos ‘n’ Andy, The Flip Wilson Show), but not in drama. Following is a selective list of some notable dramas—mostly series, but some specials—in which ethnic and other minorities took the lead. There are certainly more (depending on your definition of “notable”), and additions are welcome at tim@timbrooks.net.

Jul. 1949Mama (CBS). Peggy Wood. Family drama.Norwegian-American
1950 The Cisco Kid (Syndicated). Duncan Renaldo. Western.Hispanic
Apr. 1951Showtime U.S.A. (ABC): 1st TV production of the all-black play “Green Pastures,” with Avon Long and Ossie Davis (excerpts).Black
Sep. 1951 Gallery of Mme. Lui-Tsong (Dumont). Anna May Wong. Crime drama. Chinese-American
Oct. 1953Harlem Detective (WOR-TV NY, local). Local live drama series about black & white detective teams. Lasted 3 months. Black
Oct. 1955Philco TV Playhouse (NBC): “A Man is Ten Feet Tall” Gritty waterfront drama starring Sidney PoitierBlack
1955Adventures of Fu Manchu (Syndicated). Glen Gordon.
Crime drama.
Sep. 1955Brave Eagle (CBS). Keith Larsen. Western from Native
American’s point of view.
Native American
Sep. 1956Broken Arrow (ABC). Co-starred Michael Ansara as Apache chief Cochise.Native American
Jun 1957New Adventures of Charlie Chan (Syndicated). J. Carrol Naish as the philosopher-sleuth.Asian
Oct. 1957Zorro (ABC). Guy Williams. Western set in old Calif.Spanish-American
Oct. 1959Law of the Plainsman (NBC). Michael Ansara as an Apache with a Harvard law degree.Native American
Oct. 1959 The Untouchables (ABC). Robert Stack. Complaints from Italians about so many Italian mobsters.Italian-American
Sep. 1965I Spy (NBC). Bill Cosby, Robert Culp. Breakthrough spy series with black as co-lead.Black
Sep. 1967Ironside (NBC). Raymond Burr as wheelchair-bound detective.Handicapped
Sep. 1968The Outcasts (ABC). Western with Don Murray and Otis Young as bounty hunters, notable for Young’s portrayalBlack
Sep. 1968The Mod Squad (ABC). Clarence Williams III as one of a trio of young crime-fightersBlack
Sep. 1969Room 222 (ABC). Lloyd Haynes as a teacher.Black
Sep. 1971Longstreet (ABC). James Franciscus as a blind detective.Visually impaired
Sep. 1972Anna and the King (CBS). Yul Brynner in a TV version of “The King and I.” Set in Siam. Asian
Sep. 1972Banacek (NBC). George Peppard as Polish-American private eye.Polish-American
Oct. 1972Kung Fu (ABC). David Carradine. Western. Chinese-American
Oct. 1973 Kojak (CBS). Telly Savalas as a NY detective. Greek-American
Oct. 1973Shaft (CBS). Richard Roundtree as detective. Black
Oct. 1973Tenafly (NBC). James McEachin as detective. Black
Jan. 1974“The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman”, Emmy-winning TV movie starring Cecily Tyson.Black
Sep. 1974Get Christie Love (ABC). Teresa Graves as a sexy detective.Black
Sep. 1974Petrocelli (NBC). Barry Newman as a rural lawyer. Italian-American
Sep. 1974Nakia (ABC). Robert Forster as Native-American sheriff.Native-American
Sep. 1976Serpico (NBC). David Birney as a NY detective. Italian-American
Jan. 1977“Roots” (ABC). One of the great landmarks of American TV, an introduction to African-American history for many.Black
Jan. 1977Lanigan’s Rabbi (NBC). Art Carney with Bruce Solomon as his crime-fighting rabbi/advisor. Based on Kemelman novels.Jewish
Sep. 1977 The Fitzpatricks (CBS). Bert Kramer. Drama about a working class Irish-Catholic family.Irish-American
Mar. 1979Harris and Company (NBC). Bernie Casey. Family drama.Black
Sep. 1979Paris (CBS). James Earl Jones as a detective.Black
Sep. 1979The Lazarus Syndrome (ABC). Louis Gossett Jr. as a doctor.Black
Mar. 1980Palmerstown U.S.A. (CBS). Ensemble drama (including Michael J. Fox) about a black & a white family in 1930sBlack
Jan. 1982Fame (NBC). Debbie Allen, others. Multi-cultural youth drama. Multi-cultural
Dec. 1986The Cavanaughs (CBS). Barnard Hughes. Family drama.Irish-American
Jan. 1987 Ohara (ABC). Pat Morita. Detective. Japanese-American
May 1990Brewster Place (ABC). Oprah Winfrey. Drama Black
Sep. 1990Gabriel’s Fire/Pros & Cons (ABC). James Earl Jones tries again, as an ex-con detective. Black
Sep. 1991 Brooklyn Bridge (CBS). Danny Gerard. Family dramedy. Jewish
Aug. 1994M.A.N.T.I.S. (Fox). Carl Lumbly. 1st black superhero? Black
Sep. 1994 New York Undercover (Fox). Michael de Lorenzo, Malik Yoba. New York detectives. Hispanic/Black
Mar. 1995Under One Roof (CBS). James Earl Jones again, in a
family drama.
Mar 1996Mystery Files of Shelby Woo (Nickelodeon). Irene Ng, Pat Morita. Kids’ adventure series. Chinese-American
Jun. 2000 Resurrection Boulevard (Showtime). Family drama. Hispanic
Jun. 2000Soul Food (Showtime). Family drama.Black
Dec. 2000Queer as Folk (Showtime). Drama. Gay


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