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Give ''Girlfriends'' Its Billboard!

By RD Heldenfels Published: October 3, 2006

TV Tattle has a link today to a Los Angeles Times story where ''Girlfriends'' mastermind Mara Brock Akil complains about not getting enough respect from the new CW network. If you don't want to link to the story, here are the key paragraphs:

[Akil] said that "Girlfriends" "has never had a billboard, even though more times than not we've been the No. 1 show in black households." She continued: "That's not right. If I meet this challenge, even though our numbers may be small, I will consider them double what they are, because we would have done it without marketing support. I know it's the reality of the business, but I don't like it."

Responding to Akil's comments, a network spokesman said, "When you're launching a new network, there are countless marketing priorities, including an overall branding campaign, which featured every show on the CW. 'Girlfriends' is one of those shows, and we are very proud that it's anchoring our new Sunday night as the most-watched program on television by African Americans since it premiered in 2000."

And in an interview earlier this week, Ostroff called the series an integral part of the CW's strategy to attract female viewers. "When 'Girlfriends' was on UPN, it was still going strong," she said. "It's very important for us — it helps to bring in women. The show is so smart, and shows women in a realistic vein."

I mention this because the complaints from Akil and ''Girlfriends'' are both reasonable and long-standing. In January 2004, I was among a small group of critics who visited with Akil and the stars of ''Girlfriends.'' At the time, star Tracee Ellis Ross said that, aside from a sign on the Paramount lot, where the show is produced, "we've never had a billboard. ... There's still a lot of people who are, like, 'Girlfriends' . . . Is that a new show? Is that on cable?' ''

UPN, then the network for ''Girlfriends,'' defended its promotion of the show at the time, with a top executive noting that every show wants more and better publicity than it gets. But it's still telling that, two years later, that the same complaint is being made, and the same bland explanation offered.

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