Frank’s Place is a comedy-drama which aired on CBS for 22 episodes during the 1987-1988 television season. It took place in Treme, New Orleans and is based on the true story of Chez Helene, a New Orleans Chef and business owner. The show told the story of a Professor at Brown University, Frank, who inherited a Creole restaurant in New Orleans from his father. Frank’s Place was critically acclaimed because of its genre “dramedy” blend and because of its tackling of social and political issues relevant of the time.
Frank’s Place was unique because of its relevance to New Orleans and its particular story of blackness. The premise of the show allowed the audience to understand what it meant to live in New Orleans while the main character came to terms with his blackness and with the New Orleans culture. The 1980s and 1990s America was a time in which discourses around black people were criminalized and they spaces they inhabited were signified as dangerous. The show attempted to resignify blackness and these spaces by interpellating its viewers to feel a particular way about racial and class struggles. It did this by showing local musicians and local community members in their every day, localized, lives dealing with issues .
Media critiques of the show focus on television as a site of struggle over hegemonic productions of identity. They discuss only how the show’s representations are shaped, and how they worked against the current discourses of blackness, but not the larger cultural policies or struggles controlling the representations. Frank’s Place was important at the time because it broke TV’s color-line and provided television with non-stereotypical representations of black America in a post-Cosby landscape.
There are definite limits to representations in Franks Place, though. One of these is that the show often individualized the problems of the characters rather than made them larger cultural or structural struggles in the show. Because of this, it was often unclear what critique the show was making in each of its political moments. Another issue is its failure to become commercially viable. This made further types of black TV weary of unconventional formats like Franks Place which meant future shows would resort back to conventional formats and representations. The show is a unique example of black television post-civil rights and how it more might be required of it to rearticulate blackness.
Written by Lee Scandinaro