Favorite TV shows featuring upper-class Black life

Lynn Whitfield in “Greenleaf”

With “A House Divided,” “Our Kind of People” set in Oak Bluffs, and “Kings of Napa,” about a Black winery-owning dynasty in the storied California region currently on the air, it seems that TV is finally broadening its lens on the Black experience.

However, there is a significant history of stories told on screen about Black characters that centered them within the walls of wealth and relative power. Take a trip down memory lane and discover new favorites with the highlights below.

“Kings Of Napa”

The latest entrant in the growing number of series featuring rich but ultimately deliciously unhappy families, this one focuses on a vineyard and wine company-owning Black family, the Kings, centered in the storied American region known for turning out some of the finest wines in the world.

Facts of Life

This wasn’t a predominantly Black cast or creator show, but this comedy about a group of girls attending an elite boarding school did perhaps bring the first bougie Black teen to our television screens with the sensitive, perky Tootie, who lived on her roller skates for the first few seasons of the long-running show. The actress who played Tootie, Kim Fields, went on to play the sassy Regine on the beloved comedy “Living Single” later in her career.

The Jeffersons

A breakthrough in television that hasn’t been seen since. Who can forget main character Louise and her upstairs neighbor Helen, who was also Black, dripping in pearls, diamonds, and furs? In this mainstream comedy featuring the irascible (and hilarious) business owner George Jefferson and his wife “Weezie” and the snappy maid Florence living in an Upper East Side “deluxe apartment in the sky.” 

The series was a hit and aired on CBS for many years. It also brought us our first young bougie Black couple on TV in nice guy Lionel Jefferson and girl next door Jenny Willis.

The Cosby Show

The most popular of them all. Crossover hit featuring Doctor Cliff Huxtable and lawyer Claire Huxtable and their five kids (the eldest was mostly off-screen) living in their beautiful Brooklyn brownstone. The show was a fictional, middle-class precursor to the Obamas and also seemed a harbinger of a “post-racial” America in its heyday. That dream, like the star of the show comedian Bill Cosby, has fallen quite far indeed.

Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

The star of the show, Will Smith, was far from bougie, but his extended family, the not-so-subtly-named Banks, who lived in the elite town, was. With stay-at-home mom Vivian, Judge Philip Banks, and a trio of private-school-educated siblings, they were the very definition of it.

Greenleaf

A nighttime family drama on OWN centered around the Greenleaf family, made wealthier than everyone in their community from the megachurch that they run, but no happier or holier than anyone else. Starring Lynn Whitfield, Deborah Joy Winans, Keith David.

Noughts and Crosses

Set in the fantasy world of Albion, an analog of current-day England, the tables are turned in terms of race. The melanized citizens of Albion, the Crosses, rule over the melanin-less Noughts. Told mainly from the point of view of Persephone, daughter of one of Albion’s highest-ranking government officials and one half of a young star-crossed (racially speaking) couple, it illustrates the brutal impact of “Cross-supremacy” on its Nought citizens.

A still from “Our Kind Of People”

Our Kind of People

Very loosely based on the non-fiction book by journalist Lawrence Otis Graham, the Lee Daniels-produced drama chronicles the lives of a wealthy Oak Bluffs family. Starring Yaya DaCosta, Debbie Morgan, Morris Chestnut.

Scandal

Well-bred D.C. socialite Olivia Pope is a high-powered political consultant and business owner who has the heart of the married president of the United States, but not his hand.

Greys Anatomy

Another Shondaland vehicle, from its outset it featured Dr. Burke, who was from a well-off family. Later we met Dr. Katherine Avery and her son Jackson Avery whose family owned not only a private plane, but a whole hospital at one point.

Empire

This long-running series starring Terence Howard and Taraji P. Henson charted the sordid lives of a broken but wealthy family who struggle over controlling their music empire.

The Haves and The Have Nots

Tyler Perry’s long-running nighttime soap plays a lot more like a daytime serial with its extremely over-the-top but entirely entertaining and unforgettable characters, especially the wealthy but wickedly wily Veronica Harrington.