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Moesha aired from January 1996 until August 2001 on UPN.

Filling a void of family comedy at a time when to the dismay of many, racy Friends clones far outnumbered generic Cosby clones, this showcase for R&B Pop-Singer Brandy had just enough spice to become one of the biggest hits on the UPN Network. The series was set in the inner-city of Los Angeles. When the series premiered, Moesha ( Brandy Norwood) was about to turn 16. Frank ( William Allen Young), her dad, sold cars for a local Saturn dealership; Dee ( Sheryl Lee Ralph), her new stepmother, taught at Moesha's school, Crenshaw High School; and Myles ( Marcus T. Paulk) was her smart-mouthed kid brother. Mo's friends included Hakeem ( Lamont Bentley), a neighbor and classmate, who seemed to eat all his meals at the Mitchell home; Kim ( Countess Vaughn), her pudgy, outspoken best friend who had a crush on a disinterested Hakeem; and Niecy ( Shar Jackson), a classmate who hung out with them and was the third member of the " Three Live Crew." Andell ( Yvette Wilson) ran The Den restaurant where Mo and her friends hung out after school. In April Dee became the faculty advisor for the school newspaper Cry of the Couger and, less than a year later, was promoted to vice principal. During the 1996-1997 season Moesha was dating Q ( Fredo Starr) but unsure about how serious he was about her, and as a result they broke up. Early in 1997, Frank, with some help from some friends, bought his own Saturn dealership.

At the start of the 1997-1998 season , Moesha was sent, despite her objections, to Bridgewood, a preppie private high school. In February she became co-editor of the school newspaper, the Bridgewood Banner, but few episodes actually delt with the private school, concentrating instead on her family and her old friends. At the end of the season she went to a slumber party at which a couple of boys were planning to sleep over, and when she was dragged home by her irate father, they had an ugly confrontation. She left home and went to Andell's, where she lived for five months until she reconciled with her dad. The reconciliation took place when Miles got everybody to make up at Frank's birthday party and he let her go back to Crenshaw for her senior year. At the end of the season Kim and Hakeem were accepted to Santa Monica College and Moesha, who had been accepted to Northwestern University's School of Journalism , decided to postpone college to take a job at the magazine Vibe.

That fall Moesha was working at Vibe while Niecy was at California University and Hakeem was at Santa Monica College as was Kim ( in her own series , The Parkers). Frank took in his troubled teenage nephew, Dorian ( Played by Brandy's brother , Ray J. Norwood), who had arrived from Oakland, and tried to streighten him out . Early on Moesha was fired from Vibe and enrolled at California University. Dorian, the scam artist ( who had given himself the rap name D Money), went too far and almost got sent back to Oakland before he showed real remorse. In February Hakeem was accepted to C.U. and a visiting aunt revealed that Frank was actually Dorian's father-he'd had an affair during a tough period in his first marriage and fathered him out of wedlock; Frank's sister had adopted the baby. The family didn't take this well, and Moesha moved into a crummy room at a C.U. dorm. She and her dad eventually made up but Dorian still harbored resentment. In April Moesha and Hakeem started dating again. Dorian got involved with a lowlife but Frank bailed him out and reluctantly, sent him to a juvinile boot camp. Moesha was offered a summer job touring as business manager for Q's rap group. She turned him down to stay with Hakeem, but after she caught Hakeem and Niecy kissing ,they broke up and Moesha wound up taking the job with Q.

In September Moesha was back from the tour and engaged to Q. Dorian had survived boot camp ( and cleaned up his act) and was preparing to start his senior year in high school, and Dee was preparing to go back to Jamaica , where she had been offered a full time education position ( Sheryl Lee Ralph had decided to leave the series although she still made occasional guest appearances). Moesha's new roommate at school was obnoxious Alicia ( Alexis Fields)-but she made up with Niecy and they became roommates. Hakeep was trying hard to get her back while Q was on tour in Japan. Frank wasn't pleased when Moesha finally told him she was engaged to Q, but they broke up at Thanksgiving. In February Dorian told Moesha he wanted to find his birth mother and she helped him track her down. The following week they found Barbara Lee( Olivia Brown), his mother, with whom he started to build a relationship. In May Dee came home in time for Dorian's high school graduation. He had gotten a recording contract and had decided that he wasn't going to go to college. Then in the series finale ( May 14, 2002), Hakeem asked Moesha to move in with him for the summer after his roommate Jerome ( Lahmard Tate) had to move out. This caused problems for Moesha as she and Niecy had made plans to live together off campus. Meanwhile Jerome discovered a pregnancy test in the girls' dorm room. It was hinted that Alicia may have been the one pregnant. A guy who had been in jail with Dorian tried to muscle in on his recording income. When Dorian refused, the guy kidnapped Miles. In the cliffhanger ending, as Moesha was about to tell Frank she was going to live with Hakeem, Dorian interupped with the news about Miles and Moesha fainted. Since the series was canceled, there was no resolution. Pregnancy test! Abduction! This show had changed from a happy go lucky family sitcom into a soap opera.

Each episode opened and closed with Moesha reflecting on how what happened affected her life and relationships.

A Review from Variety



Cast: Brandy Norwood, Sheryl Lee Ralph, William Allen Young, Countess Vaughn, Marcus T. Paulk, Lamont Bentley, Yvette Wilson, Merlin Santana, Malinda C. Williams, Shar Jackson, Yunoka Doyle, Vicellous Shannon.

Filmed in Los Angeles by Big Ticket Television and Regan Jon Prods. Executive producer, Ralph Farquhar. Co-executive producers, Sara V. Finney, Vida Spears; producer, Mary Ellen Jones; creators, Farquhar, Finney, Spears; director, Stan Latham; writers, Finney, Spears;

Netlet UPN goes beyond "Star Trek" spinoffs with this lively sitcom toplining effervescent teen pop star Brandy Norwood as the title character. Series pilot -- the only episode available for re-view -- smoothly introduces characters and relationships. Although "Moesha" doesn't promise to go beyond the sitcom status quo, its slangy, snappy writing and amiability should appeal to a younger demo -- and will be a painless watch for their parents -- although its debut faces "Home Improvement," which doesn't bode well for its Nielsen numbers.
"Moesha" press materials promise that the Mitchells are not the Huxtables, Bradys, Cleavers or Conners: They are not rich -- dad Frank (William Allen Young) sells Saturns and stepmom Dee (Sheryl Lee Ralph) teaches high school -- or smarmy, perfect or white trash, but a nice middle-class black family with nice middle-class problems, especially two-months-shy-of-16 Moesha.

Pilot focuses on stepmom-stepdaughter territorial issues and Moesha's boy problems.

It's hard to tell what type of direction the series will take from just one seg, but the team behind "Moesha"-- Ralph Farquhar (creator of the controversial "South Central") and the writing team of Sara V. Finney and Vida Spears ("Family Matters") -- promises to bring a mix of social issues and wholesome comedy to future episodes.

Norwood, already having sold 3 million-plus albums, takes on her first starring role (she was a regular on the short-lived "Thea"). She's a likable kid , and her supporting cast of girlfriends -- especially Countess Vaughn as the boy-crazy Kim -- are sassy and full of street talk and slang; cast's chemistry manages to transcend the rather stale storyline.

Fact that series is filmed frees up director Stan Latham's camera, giving "Moesha" a sophisticated look.

And the most important aspect of the show: The kids are not smarter than their parents.

An Article from The New York Times

On TV, Showing Life as Lived

Published: January 30, 1996

The revolution, as they used to say, will not be televised. On the other hand there's always room in prime time for another sitcom.

Such are the north and south poles of Ralph Farquhar's professional existence. A tall, bearded 44-year-old partial to T-shirts and baseball hats, Mr. Farquhar is both a black activist and a successful network television writer, an agent of change and a well-connected industry insider.

Throughout my entire career I've only had one goal, one motivation," he said over lunch recently at a Caribbean restaurant in a relatively untrendy neighborhood east of Hollywood. "To bring an honest portrayal to the life I live to the screen: to the small screen."

In 1994, "South Central," a gritty half-hour comedy set in inner-city Los Angeles, was praised by critics and received an award from Viewers for Quality Television, a group that uses viewer mail as leverage to petition the networks to save programs. But the show, which Mr. Farquhar created with Michael Whitehorn, had a low-rated run on the Fox Network and was dropped after only 13 weeks.

Mr. Farquhar's next television project, "Moesha" (pronounced moe-EESH-ah), is a more subtly, perhaps even sneakily, innovative sitcom that had its premiere on Jan. 23 on the one-year old United Paramount Network. (In New York the show is broadcast on Tuesdays on WWOR, Channel 9, at 8 P.M.)

The series, which he created with his co-executive producers, Sara Finney and Vida Spears, both of whom are veteran comedy writers, stars the 16-year-old Brandy Norwood, better known as the pop singer Brandy, in the title role.

Moesha Mitchell is a bright, attractive high school student with a smart-aleck younger brother (Marcus T. Paulk), a good-natured father (William Allen Young) and a disconcertingly vivacious stepmother (Sheryl Lee Ralph). Like most teen-age inhabitants of the sitcom world, she agonizes volubly over such issues as boys, household rules and the prevention of facial blemishes.

What sets "Moesha" apart from other black sitcoms is that the Mitchells live in a middle-class world that is demographically and culturally almost entirely made up of black and Hispanic residents. Their neighborhood, Leimert Park, is a real middle-class black neighborhood that while practically unknown to most white Los Angelenos is very familiar to Mr. Farquhar and his co-writers.

"Moesha is completely honest to the culture and the environment we're portraying," Mr. Farquhar said. "We make no nods toward making it seem white. You know, it just is what it is."

"But the good news," he added, "is that it's not that much different from anyone else's life in America. We just keep the flavor."

There were no white faces in the first episode of "Moesha." While it is obvious to the viewer that the Mitchells buy into many parts of the American dream -- Moesha's stepmother is a schoolteacher, her father sells Saturn automobiles -- the characters' ethnic sensibilities are neither muted nor, in most cases, underlined.

In the show, adults and teen-agers alike pepper their speech freely though not ostentatiously with black English, including black slang. Decor and dress show strong Afrocentric influences. Moesha's heartthrob is a boy named Ohagi (the character says it means "conquering warrior"), who recites rap-style poetry at a local teen-age hangout. A disparaging remark is made in passing about the O. J. Simpson trial prosecutor Christopher Darden, obliquely implying where the Mitchell family stands on the issue of Mr. Simpson's guilt or innocence.

These are clearly not the Huxtables from "The Cosby Show." But neither are they the Mosleys, the family on which "South Central" was centered. In that single-parent, female-headed household, just a paycheck or two away from welfare, plots were strongly tied to issues like unwed parenthood, gang warfare and racial discrimination. One son had been killed in a police shootout before the action of the series began. Another boy, a foster child, never spoke. Industry detractors labeled it too depressing.

Did we go too far with 'South Central?' " Mr. Farquhar said. "No, because you can never go too far. If there's one thing I learned from TV, it's that if you know that something's going to work, if you're comfortable with it, you're wrong. When you go far enough so that you don't know whether something's going to work or not, then you're doing the right thing."

"Moesha" is about a family that is doing well, said Mr. Farquhar, who is divorced and remarried and has grown children, "so that we can focus on emotional issues without the barrier of economics."

"Still," he added, "there will always be serious moments. Moesha is not an idealized teen-ager. The real world is still out there."

Mr. Farquhar has always probed the limits of the system. He was born and reared in Chicago, then went on to the United States Military Academy. He said he soon realized that "my talents lay elsewhere" and left after "one year, eight months and eight days."

He later received a degree in advertising from the University of Illinois, but moved to Los Angeles in the hope of becoming an actor.

He worked as a receptionist at a travel agency run by the wives of powerful entertainment industry executives, one of whom was the producer of the long-running ABC sitcom "Happy Days." Soon he was a writer's assistant -- a secretary, in other words -- on that show.

"But you want to know something funny?" he said. "Being a 6-foot-2 black man, nobody asked me to type anything, so I just sat there and wrote my own scripts."

One day after a company baseball game, Garry Marshall, the creator and executive producer of "Happy Days, came over to him to talk, Mr. Farquhar said.

"He said: 'What do you want to do?' " Mr. Farquhar said. "I said, 'I want to be a writer.' So he said, 'O.K., you just pitch to me anytime you have an idea.'

"I did that for two years. He would give me some time once a month, and I would pitch story ideas to him. And one day he hired me. He said, 'O.K., you can be a famous writer."'

Mr. Farquhar was a staff writer on "Happy Days" for three years. In the early 1990's he worked on the sitcoms "Married . . . With Children" and "Drexell's Class," and then, along with Michael Weithorn, a white writer and producer, developed "South Central" for CBS.

When that network turned it down -- as it did "Moesha" last year -- the two men got a commitment from the upstart Fox network.

When "South Central" had its premiere in April 1994, John J. O'Connor of The New York Times wrote, "There are laughs in 'South Central,' but they are secondary to a permeating sense of danger and looming disintegration." He added that the show had a "steady ring of truth."

Fox canceled the show in August. A momentarily bitter Mr. Farquhar gave some angry interviews and organized a letter-writing campaign, to no avail.

He then moved on to "Moesha." After CBS passed on it, the show was in limbo for several months until UPN, with its two-night-a-week schedule aimed at younger viewers, picked it up.

"When I saw it I liked it right away," said UPN's head of entertainment, Mike Sullivan, a producer of such shows as ABC's "Growing Pains" and "Just the 10 of Us."

"I especially thought Brandy was terrific, even though as a middle-aged white guy I was only peripherally aware of her as a singer," Mr. Sullivan said. "I felt the same way seeing her as when Kirk Cameron came in to audition for 'Growing Pains.' Before she's back in her car, she's a teen idol."

In its Tuesday night time slot, Mr. Farquhar's show appears opposite "Roseanne" on ABC and "Wings" on NBC. "I think we've got a chance," he said. "Who can say?"

Mr. Farquhar glanced down at his pager. He excused himself, retrieved and dialed his portable phone and spoke softly into it for a few minutes.

He then relayed the urgent crisis at the studio to his co-writers: should Ms. Norwood be equipped with false eyelashes for a scene?

"I have absolutely no opinion on that," he said, laughing.

An Article from The New York Times

COVER STORY;Brandy, Pop Star, Plays a Teen-Ager, Though Not Just Any Teen-Ager

Published: February 11, 1996

By the time she turned 16 last year, the pop star Brandy Norwood had a platinum-selling debut album, a No. 1 hit single, an opening act on Boyz II Men's national tour and a heap of effusive press clips. (Vibe magazine described her voice as "a spine-chilling vibrato laced with rhythm-and-blues and gospel inflections.")

After such a Cinderella year, Ms. Norwood said she did not have much of a wish list for her 17th birthday today.

I really have just about everything I want," she admitted.

Including the starring role on "Moesha" (pronounced moe-EESH-ah), the new UPN sitcom on Tuesday nights at 8 on WWOR, Channel 9.

Ms. Norwood plays the title character, Moesha Mitchell, a bright, savvy, middle-class black teen-ager who navigates the passage of a 90's adolescence with a little help from her hip pals and close-knit family (father, little brother and stepmother).

Set in Leimert Park, a middle-class black enclave of Los Angeles, the series combines breezy humor with a sharp, realistic edge to "provide a more honest look at what's happening with middle-class black America," according to Ralph Farquhar, the show's executive producer.

"The Mitchells aren't the Huxtables," Mr. Farquhar said, alluding to the attractive, upper-middle-class family of "The Cosby Show," which dominated the small screen in the 1980's. "The Huxtable parents were a doctor and an attorney; Moesha's father is a Saturn salesman, her stepmother is a teacher. They're a little more representative of what it means to be black and middle class in America."

"And we try not to have neat, pat endings to each show because in real life nothing is resolved so tidily," he added. "We want Moesha to experience life pretty much the way teen-age kids do nowadays."

Ms. Norwood says she and her alter ego have a lot in common. "She's not wild or anything she lives with her family, like me," Ms. Norwood said. "She is very focused, very responsible. And funny. She has a lot going for her."

The combination of poised grown-up and effervescent teen-ager appears to describe Ms. Norwood, whose conversation can bounce easily from scripts and recording sessions to curfews and allowances. When she sings, her voice sounds sultry and much older than her years.

Her first album, "Brandy," sold more than three million copies and spawned the hit singles "I Wanna Be Down" and "Baby." In recognition, Ms. Norwood recently received two Grammy nominations (for best new female artist and best rhythm-and-blues female vocal performance.) Her latest release, "Sitting Up in My Room," was written by Babyface for the soundtrack of the film "Waiting to Exhale." She was chosen to record it by Whitney Houston, the star of "Exhale" and Ms. Norwood's idol.

"Meeting her was a historic moment," Ms. Norwood said solemnly. "I will never forget that day. I just cried."

If she displays few junior diva tendencies, she says, that is because her parents (Sonja, her manager, and Willie, a choir director who is her vocal coach) "don't treat me like I'm any big deal."

"One of her parents is always nearby," said Sheryl Lee Ralph, who plays Moesha's stepmother. "They're very supportive. Brandy has a lot of pressure on her with two separate careers, acting and singing. But she is handling it well."

Ms. Norwood was born in McComb, Miss., and sang her first solo in church when she was 2. Her family moved to California when she was 4. (The Norwood family includes Ms. Norwood's brother, Willie Jr., 15, who had a role on Fox's "Sinbad Show" before it ended in 1994.)

A self-confessed ham who loves performing in front of a live audience, Ms. Norwood began singing with local groups and entering talent shows. By the time she was 14, she had a record contract with Atlantic.

"It offends me when people say I'm an overnight success because I'm so young," said Ms. Norwood, who attended Hollywood High School but is now tutored privately. "There were a lot of rejections in the beginning. I didn't get to go out with my friends. It took hard work to get where I am."

In 1993, while she was recording her ealbum, Ms. Norwood landed the role of Denesha, the daughter on the short-lived ABC sitcom "Thea." At the time she was not enthusiastic about acting.

"I wanted to sing so badly that I was miserable when I had to cancel studio time to tape," Ms. Norwood said. "But now I'm ready to act. It's not that I want to change directions, but 'Moesha" is a challenge."

Mr. Farquhar created "Moesha" with Sara Finney and Vida Spears, the show's executive producers. After CBS passed on the pilot, the series was picked up by UPN, which has ordered 13 episodes.

"We were all taken with Brandy when we saw the pilot," said UPN's head of entertainment, Mike Sullivan. "When you see star quality like that and you can get it, you grab it."

UPN, which aims for audiences in the major urban markets, specializes in action-adventure series and hard-edged sitcoms. "'Moesha' is not a sappy show," Mr. Sullivan said. "It gives you a realistic depiction of family life that has great universal appeal."

Mr. Farquhar, who created "South Central," the short-lived dramatic series on the Fox network set in inner-city Los Angeles, said he wanted "Moesha" to "Always be a little on the edge so you don't know where it's going to turn."

"We try to push the envelope," he said. "It's an upbeat show, but at the same time, you'll see things that will come at you a little differently. I don't ever want this show to get to a place where it's just trying to be comfortable."

The first episode touched on the issue of stepparents, "a pretty common structure in American families nowadays," said Mr. Farquhar. "Moesha and her steppmother make a little progress, but it doesn't end with everything perfect."

Other episodes deal with interracial dating, jealousy between best friends, "ditch" parties (where students skip school to have parties) and what happens when a single parent is laid off and a teen-age son tries to find a job. "We have little moral lessons, but we play them in a non-heavy-handed way," Mr. Farquhar said.

Mr. Farquhar, who is 44, says he welcomes ideas from Ms. Norwood and other young cast members who have an "expert perspective" on teen-age dress and slang. "Sometimes they'll tell us in rehearsal, 'Oh, man, we don't say it that way,"' he said, laughing.

Ms. Norwood, who juggles the taping of "Moesha" with schoolwork, recording a second album and making guest appearances, says she is not at all worried about being burned out by her work by the time she is 20.

"No way," she said firmly. "I have a long career in front of me."

A Review from Entertainment Weekly
Published on April 19, 1996

TV Review

By Ken Tucker

THE TWO MOST intriguing sitcom ideas of the season involve a subject that television usually tries to avoid. Both ABC's recently retired Buddies and Fox's The Show concern the endlessly complicated ways in which African-Americans interact with whites and the dominant white culture. Both series have been widely critiqued for their (very relative) boldness, but the bottom line is that neither of them accomplishes the prime-time fundamental: They just ain't funny.

Meanwhile, over on upstart UPN, true pop-cultural fieldwork is being accomplished on MOESHA (UPN, Tuesdays, 8-8:30 p.m.). This deceptively unassuming sitcom was understandably perceived, at first, as merely a TV vehicle for recording star Brandy, currently sitting near the top of the charts with her breathy hit single from the Waiting to Exhale soundtrack, ''Sittin' up in My Room.'' It turns out, however, that Moesha is doing more than just cashing in on Brandy's music-world success. As 16-year-old Moesha Mitchell, the bright-eyed, sassy Brandy Norwood (she uses her full name in the show's credits) heads up a series about something even more unnerving to the average television programmer than the notion of exploring race relations: Moesha is interested in presenting an African-American worldview that finds the white experience irrelevant whenever it isn't downright annoying.

Moesha proceeds from the assumption that viewers are hip to current slang, down with the latest pop-culture references, and also know who Zora Neale Hurston is (Moesha cites the late novelist as one of her role models). A typical exchange on this show: Moesha's dad (William Allen Young) talks about how much he loves the music of Rufus and Chaka Khan, and Moesha's teen next-door neighbor Hakeem (Lamont Bentley) responds, ''Oh, yeah -- she the one that does all the Mary J. Blige songs.'' Moesha's best friend, Kim (Countess Vaughn) -- who gets regular laughs from her exaggerated use of the word fine (''foiiine!'') -- is a real card. When Moesha said recently, ''I'm into more adult things now,'' Kim chided, ''Like what? Sippin' on prune juice and watchin' CBS?''

It's not as if there aren't other likable family-centered sitcoms with all-black casts. Sister, Sister, a show about twinkly twins that benefits greatly from the presence of Jackee Harry as a bawdy mother, is a charmer; Robert Townsend's The Parent 'Hood tends to be preachy but keeps it lively. Family Matters, now in its seventh season, has managed to make Uber-nerd Steve Urkel (the increasingly heroic -- and adult -- Jaleel White) into a fascinatingly weird character. And The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, now in its final weeks, has proved a fine showcase for Will Smith's understatedly cool comic style.

But to the extent that the aforementioned sitcoms are content to remain black variations on white-cast comedies that have preceded them, some originality is lacking. The only show to which Moesha can really be compared is Fox's little-seen gem South Central (1994), which, while also delivering laughs, offered a thorny look at life in a rough section of Los Angeles. Not coincidentally, one of Moesha's creators, Ralph Farquhar, was one of the minds behind South Central.

Perhaps acknowledging that South Central's downer of a setting was one reason it didn't attract viewers, Farquhar has moved his new show into the bright, solid middle class of Los Angeles, where Moesha's biggest trauma is receiving a shiny new Saturn when what she really wanted was a Jeep. It's a measure of Moesha's intelligent tenderness, however, that such a plotline isn't played out to make Mo seem a spoiled brat. The show places her life in a perspective so vivid and empathetic that we share her disappointment, even as we recognize the superficiality of her dilemma. Smart, fast, and confident, Moesha sets a new standard for kid-friendly family entertainment. A-

An Article from The New York Times

Two Upstart Networks Courting Black Viewers

Published: October 7, 1996

When the two would-be television networks, UPN and WB, announced their new prime-time schedules last spring, one trend was impossible to miss. In seeking to build a base of viewing that would make them at least somewhat competitive with the four established broadcast networks, both UPN and WB were relying heavily on comedies with black casts.

With shows featuring young black stand-up comedians like Steve Harvey and Jamie Foxx (WB), established black stars like Sherman Helmsley and Malcolm-Jamal Warner (UPN) and distinctively evocative titles like ''Homeboys in Outer Space'' (UPN), the new networks seemed to be making their strategic intentions clear.

So far the strategy, which takes advantage of appealing to black viewers, who watch the most television, and young viewers, who are most willing to watch new channels, seems to be paying off for both networks. Both networks have demonstrated improved ratings with several important demographic groups in the early weeks of the television season.

Perhaps because they feared that the idea of building a strategy around what television executives euphemistically label ''ethnic programming'' might sound cynical, executives at each of the companies went to some lengths last spring to deny that they had consciously plotted black-oriented program schedules. The idea, UPN executives argued, was simply to find the funniest comedies, and the other networks seemed to shy away from shows with black casts, so the contrast seemed more apparent.

At WB, the strategy was already being fine-tuned, so that the emphasis shifted to programs in the early evening that would appeal to entire families, no matter what their ethnic makeup.

Even now, while boasting of ratings results that show UPN's ''Moesha,'' about a savvy teen-ager with an affectionate family, to be the hottest comedy on that network, Lucie Salhany, the president of UPN said, ''I don't think it's anybody's strategy either way, NBC to broadcast 'Friends' because they want to reach a white audience or us to broadcast 'Moesha' because we're looking for a black audience.''

Similarly, Jamie Kellner, the head of WB, while citing strong initial ratings for ''The Jamie Foxx Show,'' about a young man working in his aunt's hotel, said, ''The talent on our ethnic shows, like Steve Harvey and Jamie Foxx, is designed to have crossover appeal to whites as well.'' He also pointed out that, unlike UPN, WB had added some comedies not dependent on black casts, like ''Nick Freno: Licensed Teacher.''

Ms. Salhany said she felt stung by criticism that ''we were ghettoizing our schedule.'' She said that was not the point: ''We just knew we had to reach viewers in the big urban markets because that's where most of our station strength is.''

Still, the fact that the two networks lean disproportionately toward comedies with black casts hardly seems debatable. Between them, WB and UPN have 11 such shows, more than half their total programming. The WB is better balanced, with 5 of its 10 comedies featuring black casts; UPN is 6 for 6. Each network offers shows three nights a week.

More tellingly, television programming and advertising executives agree that a black-oriented strategy is all but inevitable for a network trying to establish itself in a prime-time arena crowded with programs on four broadcast networks and innumerable cable channels.

''I think it makes total sense always to try to first get the audience that's available to you,'' said Peter Tortorici, the former president of CBS Entertainment and now an executive with Carsey-Werner Productions. ''These are not programs you find right now on the other networks.''

Indeed, aside from CBS's addition of ''Cosby'' this season, the established networks seem to be backing away from shows with black casts. Two that were on NBC last season, ''Fresh Prince of Bel-Air'' and ''In the House'' have been replaced on Mondays by ''The Jeff Foxworthy Show,'' which celebrates a comic being a redneck, and ''Mr. Rhodes,'' about a white teacher in an upper-class prep school.

''With ethnic programs, you appeal to the group that watches the most television, black and urban viewers, and you also usually get younger viewers as well,'' said Steve Sternberg, a senior partner with BJK&E Media, a buying service for advertisers. ''Younger viewers -- kids and teens -- see a lot of trends starting with blacks in music and other forms of entertainment.''

He added that young viewers watch shows, not networks. On the other hand, he said, ''viewers over 30 tend to look at the established networks first for programs and then start clicking the remote control.''

This strategy is hardly new. It is, many television executives said, precisely the formula that Fox Broadcasting used when it began to emerge as a prime-time programming force. (Several former Fox executives are now running WB.)

It is also no coincidence, these executives say, that as Fox has attempted to broaden its appeal to audiences beyond its urban and young viewer base, it left its flank open to incursion by the two upstarts.

''Fox stopped targeting ethnic audiences about three years ago, when they put 'New York Undercover' on the air,'' said one former Fox executive, referring to a show about a black and Hispanic police team. ''You can see how it's starting to hurt them. And then these new guys come along, look at the landscape with a six-network economy and say, 'Aha, I can do an ethnic show and take advantage of Fox.' ''

In a report over the past two years on the demographics of television viewing, Mr. Sternberg's company has produced information that may also have been factored into the strategies of the two new networks.

For example, citing Nielsen rating figures, Mr. Sternberg noted that while the average white household watches 50.2 hours of television every week, the average black household watches 75.1 hours a week. These black households naturally tend to favor programs with black casts, he said.

The two networks have also looked to add shows already on the air that would fit their strategy. When ''In the House,'' a black family comedy starring the rapper L. L. Cool J, was canceled by NBC, it was immediately snapped up by UPN. By then UPN had seen how well ''Moesha,'' a show originally developed by Mr. Tortorici at CBS, had done for UPN.

In much the same way, WB first saw good signs from ''Sister, Sister,'' a black family comedy it had imported from ABC. WB pushed its black comedy strategy hard last fall, with new shows like ''The Wayans Brothers.'' ''The Wayans'' is performing especially well, having scored its best ratings in 41 weeks last Wednesday. But even though WB did add both ''The Steve Harvey Show'' and ''The Jamie Foxx Show'' this season, it did not weight its schedule nearly as heavily with black-oriented comedies as UPN did, or indeed as WB itself did a season ago.

''We've been sort of lumped in with what the other guys did, but we're balancing ourselves out,'' said Mr. Kellner of WB. WB, he said, is aiming at family viewers who are unwilling to watch shows on the estsblished networks, like NBC's ''Friends'' and ''Mad About You,'' that are intended for adult viewers. While shows like ''Sister, Sister'' and ''The Parenthood'' do have black casts, he said, their content is about values and ''values are cross-cultural.''

Another factor in WB's shift toward more balance may have been the heavy skew toward black viewing it achieved at the start of last season. In a survey of the networks' schedules last November, Mr. Sternberg found that NBC's audience had 14 percent more white households than black ones. The figure for UPN last fall was 52 percent more black households than white ones. Fox had 105 percent more black households.

The figure for WB, however, was far less balanced: Black viewership of that network was 586 percent higher than white viewership.

In January, WB added the soap opera ''Savannah,'' which features the trials and tribulations of a group of white Southern belles.

The challenge for both these networks, many of the executives said, is to grow without abandoning the base they are establishing.

''The ethnic shows work to a point,'' Mr. Tortorici said. ''Then it becomes a question of execution. Are the shows fresh?''

''They have to get to the point where the program suppliers see that shows on these networks will have an afterlife in syndication,'' he said. ''It looks like 'Sister Sister' may establish that kind of track record for WB, and 'Moesha'' might do the same for UPN.''

If that happens, he said, the new networks will have more than justified their initial strategy.

An Article from Enterttainment Weekly
Published on September 10, 1999

TV Review
Mo' and More Brandy's winning sitcom launches a slapsticky spin-off, while Jaleel White is all Grown up and leaving Urkel behind.

By Ken Tucker

Anyone interested in examples of ignored black creativity in television need look no further than the almost complete lack of media attention paid to producer Ralph Farquhar, a TV stylist as assured as Steven Bochco or Chris Carter. Farquhar continues to oversee Moesha, starting its fifth-season run. He's also cocreated the new Moesha spin-off, The Parkers, featuring Moesha's wisecracking, booty-shaking best friend, Kim Parker (the pouty, prickly, peerless Countess Vaughn). Kim now attends Santa Monica Junior College -- along with her equally gaudy 36-year-old mom, Nikki, played by stand-up comic Mo'Nique.

The running joke is, of course, that mother and daughter are so alike they constantly cramp each other's flamboyant style. Some of the gags are predictable -- the first day of school, both wear the same garish outfit and want to pledge the same sorority. But Farquhar's series -- he was also responsible for the top-notch, short-lived 1994 Fox inner-city comedy-drama South Central -- are distinctive for the way they aren't so much interested in what's said as in how it's said and what it means. With Farquhar, tone is everything.

For Moesha, this has meant a sitcom about a strongly bonded family that manages to be funny while depicting middle-class black life in a far more problematic, enlightening way than, say, Bill Cosby has managed. Moesha's dad, go-getter Frank Mitchell (William Allen Young), owns a Saturn dealership, and we've seen him struggle with business downturns and ethical dilemmas. In this season's premiere, Moesha takes a job as a gofer at the hip-hop magazine Vibe (mucho product placement here) and wants her editor-boss to read an unassigned piece she's written on producer-performer Timbaland.

The plot turns on a comic misunderstanding -- she thinks she's in for sexual harassment when he asks her out to discuss her work; he just wants to proffer some chaste mentoring -- yet the episode manages to squeeze in a lot more insight about racial and sexual politics than most shows even attempt, and all without becoming pious or PC.

Farquhar's Parkers is meant to be a much more low-down, slapsticky sitcom -- both Vaughn and Mo'Nique are graduates of the Jackee Harry school of Sassy Black Women Comedy, in which attitude frequently provides the humor that the script does not. (I invariably laugh, for example, every time Kim does her trademark shtick, which is to give an ordinary word what she thinks is a classy pronunciation: ''parties'' becomes ''pour-ties,'' for example.) Even when she was a second banana on Moesha, there was something sweetly poignant about Kim's attempts to transcend her up-from-the-ghetto roots, and the college setting of The Parkers, combined with the comic combustion Kim has with her equally ambitious and argumentative mother, promises good, raucous fun.

UPN and The WB are, for the moment, the primary locations for black comics to display their talent, in sitcoms ranging from the lame (Malcolm & Eddie) to the weird (The Jamie Foxx Show -- is there a more peculiar collection of eccentrics, Foxx included, on TV?) to the supple (dumb as the lines on The Steve Harvey Show can be, the star is always razor-sharp). Another new UPN show, Grown Ups, is a vehicle for Jaleel White, a legend in his own time for portraying mega-nerd Steve Urkel on Family Matters for nine seasons. The creators could have called this new show Pumped Up: White displays his physique at every chance; a recurring setting is a neighborhood basketball court, where the short-sleeved White, a well-known hoops devotee, sinks rocks with debonair ease.

Central to the show's concept is the notion that White's character, J. Calvin Frazier, should play less B-ball with his pal Gordon (Dave Ruby) and spend more time carving out a career. If we didn't get the point, J. pauses mid-jump-shot to announce, ''We're grown-ups.'' Oh, then why are you squandering your charm with trite plotlines such as J. and a potential roommate (Punky Brewster's Soleil Moon Frye) each thinking the other is gay?

Both Moesha and Grown Ups debuted Aug. 23 to strong ratings (see ''Winner,'' on page 133). Unlike Farquhar's show, Grown Ups may feature a black star, but it doesn't evince any insight into or enjoyment of the black experience -- not surprising, given that White's role was originally conceived for a white actor. That in itself could have proved interesting (most often, producers don't think of black actors stepping into roles written as ''white''), but all it results in here is a vague blandness: A show and its star in search of a point of view. Moesha: B+ The Parkers B Grown Ups: C

An Article from The New York Times

TELEVISION/RADIO; UPN's 'Moesha,' The Nonwhite Hit Nobody Knows

Published: September 26, 1999

THE people who make the sitcom ''Moesha'' can't help wishing that more television executives -- and viewers -- would take a cue from Dorothy in ''The Wizard of Oz.'' Remember when she's leaving Emerald City and realizes that to find her heart's desire she needn't look ''any further than my own backyard''?

As everyone in television sounds off about desires supposedly dear to their hearts -- to see more nonwhite actors in prime time and to see more shows that the whole family can enjoy -- the producers and cast of ''Moesha'' have their Oz-like wish. ''Hey, folks,'' they wonder, ''why not look here in your own backyard?''

''Moesha'' (pronounced mo-EESH-a), which has just begun its fifth season on UPN, is about a family. It has a mix of characters and plot lines that can engage both adolescents and adults. And the family, like almost all the supporting characters, happens to be black.

The show stars Brandy Norwood -- better known simply as Brandy, the pop diva with a Grammy Award and two platinum-plus albums to her credit -- in the title role, but ''Moesha'' is an ensemble show, about a middle-class family in Los Angeles coping with many of the problems, joys, sorrows and outrages that millions of American families confront daily.

Unlike many black sitcoms, the show never reduces itself to vulgar slapstick. Unlike many white sitcoms, it doesn't depict a glamorously hip world where everyone is clever and wealthy without apparent effort. Moesha's father, Frank Mitchell, is a Saturn car salesman; her stepmother, Dee, is a teacher. This season, a rebellious young man, Frank's nephew Dorian (played by Brandy's 18-year-old brother, Ray J, also a singer), has been taken in, adding male teen-age emotions and issues to the household dynamics. If past shows are a guide, such issues will be handled with prickly humor, remaining recognizably true-to-life and never saccharine.

''Why is it so easy to overlook this show?'' asks Sheryl Lee Ralph, who plays Dee. ''We're exactly what the American public says it is looking for: an honest presentation of family life, regardless of color, regardless of ethnicity. And we're doing it with quality scripts, quality producers.

''People are crying out for quality and then acting like we're not here.''

Not only are they here, but despite numerous obstacles, they are reasonably successful. ''Moesha'' has managed to increase its audience every year and is the top-rated comedy on UPN. (Granted, UPN is the lowest-rated of the six broadcast networks.)

Although UPN gave the series its chance (CBS bought the original pilot, then passed on the show) and has tried to promote the show, ''Moesha'' has been demographically isolated there in a way that may only get worse this season. UPN (which went on the air in January 1995) has been more popular with men than with women; ''Star Trek: Voyager'' is its highest-rated show. This year, UPN decided to chase young male viewers even more aggressively, adding a two-hour pro wrestling show to Thursday nights, along with some action-adventure series and sci-fi movies.

That means promotional spots, in which a network advertises its other shows to viewers, will be seen mostly by people not likely to be attracted to ''Moesha.'' To make matters worse, the late-90's audience phenomenon of white viewers tuning out shows with mostly black casts has accelerated, as the proliferation of networks has made viewers more clicker-happy than before. Virtually gone are the days when people of all colors and ages enjoyed ''The Cosby Show.''

For all these reasons, ''Moesha'' ranks very low on the overall viewership ladder too. On Sept. 13, it drew a little more than 1.3 million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research. ''Everybody Loves Raymond,'' for instance, a network hit that plays opposite ''Moesha,'' had about four times as many viewers that night. Brandy, who is far more famous than the show, is repeatedly asked if she finds it frustrating to fail to reach a broader audience.

''I'm into reaching whomever I can reach,'' she said during a preseason promotional press session. And whatever the Nielsen numbers, she added, ''I know we reach a lot of people, because when I'm in malls with my brother or my friends, I'm called Moesha a lot more than I am Brandy.''

Later, in an interview, Brandy said: ''Of course, if you do good work and you have good writing and good actors, you want people to see it. I would love to have 20 million more people watching, not for me, but to see how good the show is. But you can't complain. You have to realize that's just how life is.''

Brandy can't complain, certainly. During breaks from taping ''Moesha,'' she returns to her first love, singing. Her second album, ''Never Say Never,'' released in June, has sold more than seven million copies, and the first single released from it, a duet with Monica called ''The Boy Is Mine,'' won a Grammy Award.

Brandy's connections in the pop world also show up on the sitcom. Now 20 years old (she'll be 21 in February), she is playing an 18-year-old, one who has always been fiercely but endearingly independent. This fall Moesha could have gone to college but, to her father's distress, she chose to take a job instead, as a go-fer at Vibe magazine.

''I am studying, Daddy,'' she tells him. ''I'm studying writing and English and journalism and all that real-life-lessons kind of stuff.'' (Typically of Moesha, she soon changes her mind and most of this season will find her at the fictional California University, although still living at home.)

By contrast, her best friend, Niecy, worked hard to earn a college scholarship; she has eight brothers and sisters and can't wait to get out of the house. (Moesha's other close friend, Kim, played by Countess Vaughn, has been spun off into her own sitcom this season, ''The Parkers.'')

The Vibe story line enabled the producers to feature pop stars who appeal to the teen-agers and young adults most television networks strive to reach (because advertisers pay handsome rates to reach them). This season's opening episode, which will be repeated tomorrow night at 8, features a performance by the singer Mary J. Blige. And Ray J, Brandy's brother, bolsters the appeal to the demographic UPN now wants to attract.

Ray J's character, Dorian, is a good example of how ''Moesha'' manages to stay fresh, riding the crest of waves of various contemporary family issues. ''His father is around a little bit, sends him a check, but is not really there for him, and sometimes stands him up,'' said Vida Spears, the show's executive producer, who created it with Ralph Farquhar (''South Central'') and Sara V. Finney. ''So we have a kid who now is a teen-ager and has a lot of anger in him, but underneath there's a lot of hurt.''

After having been stood up again by his father, Dorian runs away from Oakland to the Mitchell home in Leimert Park, a black middle-class Los Angeles neighborhood. Myles, Moesha's younger brother, just entering junior high school, agrees to hide Dorian in the house. Eventually, of course, he is taken in by his uncle Frank and the long-suffering Dee (it's not enough that she's bringing up her husband's two teen-agers; now she has his troubled nephew to cope with as well).

Brandy, the singer, has always said she revered Whitney Houston as her role model and inspiration. Brandy, the actress, however, has no such role model. Instead she credits William Allen Young, who plays her sitcom father, with teaching her the fundamentals about acting and teaching her that ''being focused is the best way to work.''

Mr. Young, a veteran of many series, including ''Knots Landing,'' and television movies, said his goal on ''Moesha'' was to keep everyone focused on striving, ''from the writing to the performances, to bring as honest a portrayal of this American family as we can to television.''

Like Ms. Ralph, his on-screen wife, he cannot understand why this show has not received more attention from the critics who complain about both the dearth of family fare and the dearth of black actors, producers and writers on television, or why its success has not been more widely imitated.

''We assume the audience has an intelligence level and we don't ever want to undermine that,'' Mr. Young said. ''So when we bring up issues like birth control, when we bring up issues like interracial dating, when we bring up these issues, we assume that the audience wants to hear that, that they're ready to hear that.''

He also said that UPN executives had always been supportive of addressing these sorts of issues, within a comedy context. ''And where it may not work at other networks, it may be because the reverse is true,'' he said. ''That there is a fear about saying certain things, or that certain sponsors won't get behind certain issues.''

Mr. Young, Ms. Ralph and Brandy take care not to criticize the N.A.A.C.P.'s recent call for boycotts of network television and the organization's plans to pressure advertisers in an effort to increase diversity on screen and behind the scenes. But it is also clear from their carefully chosen words and their facial expressions that while they share the goals, they wish someone with publicity powers would occasionally take time to notice the positive things happening in their own backyard.

An Article from The New York Times

MEDIA TALK; UPN Encourages 'Moesha' to Find A New Direction This TV Season

Published: December 13, 1999

UPN wants ''Moesha,'' the biggest comedy hit in the brief history of the network, to veer off into what one network executive called ''new creative directions'' -- and the show's new executive producers are willing to do it.

That willingness contrasts with the reluctance of the show's original executive producer, Vida Spears, who is said to have been so opposed to the requested changes that she was fired two weeks ago.

Last Thursday the first of the new batch of ''Moesha'' episodes was taped in Los Angeles and Jacque Edmonds, one of three new executive producers on the show, said, ''This is a fifth-year show, and we'd like to do some things to shake things up and keep people interested.''

''Moesha'' has retained most of its audience this season, but the network, which is owned by Viacom and Chris-Craft Industries, had hoped for it to grow, especially because a spin-off show, ''The Parkers,'' which follows it at 8:30 Monday nights, has recorded even better ratings than ''Moesha'' so far this season. ''Moesha'' has also endured some production delays because of the illness of its star, the popular singer Brandy, who was suffering from what the network said was dehydration. Ms. Edmonds said Brandy had returned to work last week ''and she's much better.''

There have been reports about possible pressure by the network to take ''Moesha'' in directions at odds with its earlier image as a wholesome show about middle-class black family life. But Ms. Edmonds said, ''We all came to the show partly because of the integrity it has exhibited, and we intend to uphold that integrity.''

Ms. Spears has declined to comment on the reasons she was dismissed. Numerous attempts to reach her through her agent and lawyer were unsuccessful.

Among the changes suggested by UPN executives was a plot that would involve one of the characters joining a high school gang and acquiring a gun that would lead to an accidental shooting. Ms. Edmonds said the details of the possible gang episode had not been ''fully decided.''

A new character, played by Brandy's brother Ray J., was added last year. He is playing Moesha's cousin. In another possible episode, the cousin character may be revealed to be the illegitimate son of Moesha's father. Again Ms. Edmonds said the specifics of that story remain to be worked out. BILL CARTER

Here is Lamont Bentley's Obituary from USA TODAY
Published on January 19, 2005

Actor Lamont Bentley killed in car crash
The Associated Press

Lamont Bentley, who was a regular in the 1990s sitcom Moesha and appeared frequently in television and movies, was killed in a car crash, his manager said Wednesday.

Bentley died Tuesday night when his vehicle plunged off the San Diego Freeway, manager Susan Ferris said. He was the only person in the vehicle.

Bentley, 31, played Hakeem Campbell, the longtime friend of pop singer Brandy's character, Moesha Mitchell, in the UPN sitcom Moesha.

Bentley had appeared in a number of films, including The Wash and Tales From the Hood. He also played Tupac Shakur in the TV movie, Too Legit: The MC Hammer Story, and had appeared in guest roles on The Parkers,NYPD Blue and Clueless.

The Milwaukee native and father of two daughters began his career after moving to Los Angeles with his mother, an aspiring singer.

"This is a big year for him," Ferris said. "We were very excited because he was coming into his own. It's like a candle being snuffed right out."

To watch clips of Moesha go to

For an episode guide go to

To read about a crossover between Moesha & Girlfriends go to

For a Website dedicated to Brandy go to

For the Official Website of Sheryl Lee Ralph go to

For a Blog on Lamont Bentley go to

For a Review of Moesha go to

To watch the opening credits go to
Date: Wed June 23, 2004 � Filesize: 28.1kb � Dimensions: 433 x 350 �
Keywords: Moesha: Cast Photo (Links Updated 7/31/18)


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