Ratings for BET’s new HBCU-set drama series “The Quad” aren’t public yet, but the new Anika Noni Rose show has drawn mostly good reviews from TV critics, scoring a 70 (out of 100) on aggregator Metacritic; for example, Hollywood Reporter’s Kieth Ulich, “this is the kind of soapy delight in which there’s a hysterical dramatic crisis every two minutes or so and resolutions that would normally take dragged-out weeks arrive with oft-ridiculous expediency. Realistic it’s not, though it’s most certainly compelling thanks to a game cast and some propulsive, pointed storytelling.”
And based on social media activity during the nights the drama airs, “The Quad” certainly has a fan base.
However, one person of prominence who isn’t happy with the show at all, is Hampton University (an HBCU) president, Dr. William R. Harvey.
Dr. Harvey, who has been president of Hampton for 39 years, strongly feels that the series, set on a fictional historically Black college campus following the lives of the faculty and students, misrepresents HBCU tradition and legacy. Harvey penned a scathing letter to BET President Debra Lee in which he called the series, “a sad, derisive and denigrating story, and incredibly disparaging depiction of the HBCU’s” he knows and loves.
In the small world of television shows with predominantly Black casts, Felicia D. Henderson has an admirable track record. She was a writer and producer for the 1990s sitcoms “Moesha” and “Sister, Sister” and she developed “Soul Food,” the Showtime family drama whose 74 episodes in the early 2000’s have made it the longest-running African-American drama on American TV.
“The Quad,” her new show, has a shot at breaking “Soul Food’s” record.
If you haven’t seen the show, here’s a brief summary. Anika Noni Rose plays Eva Fletcher, a Dartmouth grad and the former president of a small college. In her new job at Georgia A&M, she faces a gamut of sociocultural challenges — she’s not Black enough; she’s too aggressive but also too bourgeois; she threatens the old boys club that’s used to running things. She’s quickly assigned the nickname Black Ivy.
Her primary antagonist, played with quiet malevolence by Ruben Santiago-Hudson, is Cecil Diamond, who has turned the university’s famous marching band into a cult like personal fiefdom that weighs heavily on Eva’s budget.
For six seasons, beginning in 1987, the popular sitcom “A Different World” brought stories of life at historically Black colleges. The NBC Show that chronicled the life at fictional Hillman College, is nothing like this heavy hitting series.
The Quad brings its viewers a five-car pileup of plot twists that include everything from freshman hazing, to underage drinking, to blackmail, to murder — and that’s just episode one!
No wonder Dr. Harvey penned such a scathing letter.
“Devoid of any reference to academics, The Quad is about a president who is promiscuous, trustees who are unwilling to deal with a rogue band director, and a band director who condones criminal activity on the part of his drum major,” Dr. Harvey wrote. “The Quad will lead many to believe that HBCUs exist because of their marching bands; that our presidents are unethical; that our boards are dysfunctional and have misplaced priorities; that our faculty, students and administrators are driven by sex, alcohol, marijuana, low self-esteem, parties and a preoccupation with music; that it is acceptable to disrespect women; that university policy can be set by a band director; and that there are no standards of conduct or penalties for bad behavior.”
“We cannot afford this kind of storytelling. It amounts to the type of ‘fake news’ that is prevalent today. You see, all that most people know about HBCUs is what they see on television. What I saw on BET February 1st was not accurate; rather, it was a bogus representation of very important and historic institutions.”
It’s any one’s guess who’ll win in this debate. This year’s season is probably already a wrap, and no telling how far it goes. However, concerns voiced in large numbers may dampen the tone of next season’s story lines, but probably not as much as Dr. Harvey would like. If Real Housewives of Atlanta is any indication of our listening preferences, the fans are ready for BET to bring it on. “The more the merrier.”