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Posted under: Opinion

25 Years Later: Why UPN Is Black America’s Unforgotten And Forever Beloved Television Network

Here's a look back at an iconic network that broke barriers to promote diversity and representation.

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When I think of television and programming, UPN instantly comes to mind. This, 2020, United Paramount Network celebrates its 25th anniversary of showcasing Black culture and trends as well as being one of the leading media influences of today’s shift in urban entertainment. It was home to some of the most iconic shows seen on Black television, like Girlfriends and Moesha.

Before we tried to figure out who shot “Ghost” St. Patrick or before we craved to see the next episode of *Empire, *Scandal and *How To Get Away With Murder, Black Americans of the ’90s depended on UPN to provide them with authentic content that related and represented Black and brown households. I understand that the average Gen Z-er young adult probably wouldn’t know how impactful UPN was to the culture, or how it set the bar for Black programming. However, if you are a ’90s baby, then you already know and remember how much UPN meant to us, especially seeing reflections of our own people from the neighborhood on television.

Just for clarification, UPN was not an actual “Black network,” but I still consider it to have been one of the meccas for Black television, as it has helped impact an entire generation and shape the careers of some of today’s biggest stars. I mean, who can forget shows like Sister, Sister, The Hughleys, Moesha, The Parkers, Eve, Girlfriends, Half & Half, One on One, All of Us and so many more to name? UPN had all of us bonding with family and friends over quality content, whether it was sitcoms or TV dramas. We all loved to tune in and share our thoughts about what’s coming up next in future episodes.

As we celebrate longevity, we must recognize that the UPN Network premiered on January 16, 1995, and emerged at a time where diversity and representation were minimal for African Americans, especially when trying to secure leading roles or their own television shows. UPN set the tone, created opportunities and jobs, as well as built the foundation of what it meant to showcase #BlackExcellence on and off the screen.

I remember when UPN used to be the go-to station for primetime television and how it was responsible for cultivating long-lasting content that’s still popular and watched today. I can’t believe it’s been 25 years; it feels as though it just premiered.

I can say UPN was definitely way ahead of its time compared to other Black networks it competed with. Because the network focused on producing resonating content, it went from being underrated, to say the least, to setting a precedent when it came to showing diversity, urban programming and listening to an audience of people who weren’t being catered to nor valued in the television industry

Right now with the emergence of reality TV and today’s popular shows, we’re witnessing a growing movement and a variety of Black content and actors. However, UPN was one of the first networks to show its appreciation to the Black community as well as highlight emerging Black talent. Not to mention, UPN was one of the first networks to have full programming with all-Black lead characters and cast members.

Can you imagine how monumental it was for young teenage Black girls to see a then 16-year-old Black girl with box braids with her own show featuring a full Black cast on their TV screens? Grammy Award-Winning singer, Brandy Norwood most definitely made a mark in history dominating her role as Moesha, but what also made it better was that her character not only had two educated parents, but they were also married with sustainable jobs, family-oriented and very involved in each other's lives.

If I know one thing, this 25th anniversary has shown me that no matter how fast time moves, everyone loves going back down memory lane to revisit what makes them happiest. UPN helped to contribute to many family/comedic moments and some of my generation’s favorite TV shows of all time.

Lastly, as the demand and buying power for Black television and content is on the rise, it’s important to acknowledge influences that have helped to empower this growing shift, which is why I decided to pay homage to the United Paramount Network. It was, and will forever be, the unforgotten staple in the Black community.

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Leon Valentine is a Washington, DC native and a 2015 graduate of Clark Atlanta University. Leon, a communications strategist currently serves as the role of publicist to Miss Black USA. Leon specializes in public relations and social media marketing. He can be reached at leon.v93@icloud.com | Social Media - Instagram : @leonrvalentine | Facebook: Leon Valentine