Adrien SebroNov 14, 2023
Scratchin' and Survivin'
Hustle Economics and the Black Sitcoms of Tandem Productions
Rutgers University Press 2023
The 1970s was a golden age for representations of African American life on TV sitcoms: Sanford & Son, Good Times, The Jeffersons. Surprisingly, nearly all the decade’s notable Black sitcoms were made by a single company, Tandem Productions. Founded by two white men, the successful team behind All in the Family, writer Norman Lear and director Bud Yorkin, Tandem gave unprecedented opportunities to Black actors, writers, and producers to break into the television industry. However, these Black auteurs also struggled to get the economic privileges and creative autonomy regularly granted to their white counterparts.
Scratchin' and Survivin': Hustle Economics and the Black Sitcoms of Tandem Productions (Rutgers UP, 2023) discovers surprising parallels between the behind-the-scenes drama at Tandem and the plotlines that aired on their sitcoms, as both real and fictional African Americans devised various strategies for getting their fair share out of systems prone to exploiting their labor. The media scholar Adrien Sebro describes these tactics as a form of “hustle economics,” and he pays special attention to the ways that Black women—including actresses like LaWanda Page, Isabel Sanford, and Esther Rolle—had to hustle for recognition. Exploring Tandem’s complex legacy, including its hit racially mixed sitcom Diff’rent Strokes, he showcases the Black talent whose creative agency and labor resilience helped to transform the television industry.
Adrien Sebro is an assistant professor of media studies at the University of Texas at Austin. He specializes in critical media studies at the intersections of comedy, gender, and Black popular culture.
Peter C. Kunze is a visiting assistant professor of communication at Tulane University.