In a year when Fortune named former first lady Michelle Obama’s memoir “Becoming” as the best-selling book of 2018, other images of women of color continued to reinforce old stereotypes. While such television shows as “Queen Sugar” and “Insecure,” are a refreshing change from reality TV’s drama queens, many Black and Brown sisters want something more from the entertainment world, especially the Millennial and Gen X women of color. The launch of CLEO TV by TV One on January 19 could be the answer to their wishes for programming that reflects their lifestyles, experiences and viewpoints.
“I think in the climate of the country right now in particular, CLEO is coming at the exact right moment,” says Robyn Green Arrington, TV One’s vice president of original programming and production. She and her team are working full throttle to bring the new network’s shows to air through broad distribution on Comcast Xfinity. Additional affiliate distribution agreements will be announced in coming months.
The short and long-form programming on CLEO will offer fresh, bold and unique content for young multicultural women. “I think that when you target a group, you give them attention, and put the spotlight or the focus on them. It’s empowering, not only for them but for others,” Arrington says.
Millennial and Gen X Experiences
The name for the new network came from TV One general manager Michelle Rice. She based it on one of history’s most powerful, trendsetting women, Cleopatra. “We’re at a pivotal moment in history where women are making a huge impact in our society and culture, especially women of color,” Rice says in a news release on the launch she is spearheading. “CLEO TV will offer a diverse mix of lifestyle and entertainment content through the unique lens of Millennial and young Gen X women of color, an audience segment currently underserved.”
More than 1,200 respondents surveyed for a 2013 Essence magazine study said the images of Black women they encountered on the Internet, television, music videos and other outlets were overwhelmingly negative. More often than not, those images fell into such categories as “Gold Diggers, Modern Jezebels, Baby Mamas, Uneducated Sisters, Ratchet Women, Angry Black Women, Mean Black Girls, Unhealthy Black Women, and Black Barbies.”
The Essence report also points out the impact of negative stereotypes on younger audiences. “Younger women — ages 18–29 — were more likely than older women to be aware of negative typologies and also more likely to find them compelling. This may be because younger generations consume more media overall, especially digital media, where many of the negative types run rampant.” This still holds true today for Millennial and Gen X women of color.
The Pew Research Center identifies the Millennial generation as anyone born between 1981 and 1996. The Gen X population includes anyone born between 1965 and 1980, while Baby Boomers are those born between 1946 and 1964. Based on Pew’s definitions, “most Millennials were ages 5 to 20 on September 11, 2001, and were ages 12 to 27 when Obama was elected.”
Arrington offers other insights into Millennial and Gen X women of color. She describes herself as a Gen Xer, who like other children of the Civil Rights Movement, was fearless and confident in working hard to overcome barriers to achieve the American dream of professional and financial success in the corporate world. On the other hand, Millennials have a different view of achievement. “They are entrepreneurs. They don’t necessarily care about mortgages or owning even dresses. These are the people who do Rent the Runway and Uber,” says Arrington. “They are about social causes, and they also believe that they don’t need to wait for someone else to give them something, that they can take it.”
That translates to purpose-driven objectives for many of the Millennial women of color who will be featured in CLEO TV programs on travel, home design, relationships, finances and cooking. The new network’s original series, talk shows, docu-series, movies and more will offer quality content that celebrates multicultural women and their lifestyles in ways not seen before on television.
Talk, Cook, Travel and More
The first quarter on CLEO TV will deliver two original cooking shows, “New Soul Kitchen” and “Just Eats with Chef JJ.” One brings together old school and new school, with East Coast soul food chef Jernard Wells teaming up with West Coast vegan chef Porsche Thomas. As an award-winning Black Latino chef, JJ Johnson presents his delightful dishes in the company of friends that include actors, activists and other influencers. Arrington sees one common denominator in CLEO’s original shows. “There’s an intimacy that I don’t think we’ve ever captured or seen before with our shows. We’re doing travel shows, but they’re not just travel shows where we take you to a location. The hosts are intricately involved in the process of whatever the show is.”
PowerHouse Productions is producing four of the new shows, including “Living by Design with Jake and Jazz.” The Smollett siblings will help Millennial families create their design dreams for living or play areas. The hosts will then present one of their own recipes to celebrate the redesigned space. “We made sure that every aspect of these shows fulfills the programming vision,” Arrington says. “When I’m sitting on the sets, it’s magic. I’m inspired on each one of those sets.”
Groundbreaking CLEO SPEAKS
In February, CLEO TV will premiere “CLEO SPEAKS,” a short-form series that breaks new ground for the new “aspirational lifestyle and entertainment” network. The talk-to-camera, first-person format will feature women who are impacting the world as activists, entrepreneurs, journalists and artists. It will give Millennial and Gen X women of color a platform for sharing their experiences and perspectives on everything from motherhood, relationships and wellness to fashion, business and social justice.
Arrington describes “CLEO SPEAKS” as another example of the weightier conversations about multicultural experiences that will unfold on the network. “It’s experiences that might have different backdrops, but ultimately, it’s about the uplift and conversation of us, either having a conversation or the conversation it will elicit about us with others.”
Another aspect that excites Arrington is the potential “CLEO SPEAKS” has to capture the digital audience. The short-format programming could attract more of the Millennial and Gen X crowd who do most of their viewing on digital platforms. CLEO TV also aims to draw those viewers with the acquisition of digital series that will be broadcast on television for the first time. “We’re tapping into influencers and the folks that Millennials watch and listen to or follow in other worlds. Those people, by default, are going to promote themselves and the fact that they’re on shows.”
Bridging Worlds and Generations
CLEO TV presents an opportunity to bridge other worlds separated by age, gender or race. The network could find fans among the women and men who are related to or friends of Millennial and Gen X women of color. “These women are wives and daughters and sisters and friends. And so, the goal isn’t to exclude anyone, and that goes for older generations too,” says Arrington. “The goal is to highlight this particular segment of society that often gets neglected or ignored or seen in unflattering roles.”
The new network will include some cross-over programming with TV One, which serves 59 million households with a range of programming representing Black culture and entertainment. Arrington expects the commitment to selecting diverse shows that are authentic and unapologetic without being exploitive to remain the same for both networks.
Telling Our Own Stories
In Arrington’s view, CLEO TV will give multicultural women of the Millennial and Gen X generations opportunities to fight back against attempts to demean, downgrade or devalue them through negative media images or stereotypes. The core of the new network’s programming will be communication and storytelling from a global perspective that documents the experiences and views of Millennials and Gen Xers in their own voices.
Arrington considers it an honor to usher in what she and the TV One team hope will become a healthy, thriving network appreciated by viewers and creators for generations to come. “We’re unapologetically going to be who we are, and we’re not going to sell ourselves short to fit into your box. We’re going to define it.”