The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES_Meet Ralph Farquhar and Michael J. Weithorn, a couple of nervy television writers.

These guys decided to create a fresh, non-stereotypical series about an inner-city black family. They shopped it. They refused to soften it. They sold it.

It's airing. "South Central" debuted last night (at 7 p.m., Tucson time) on Fox Broadcasting Co. and viewers discovered their work: an honest, heartfelt show that draws laughs without stooping to a mockery of black culture.

"South Central," with the gift-to-TV Tina Lifford as a single mother of three in Los Angeles, also refuses to blink at the tough issues that confront urban dwellers, so prepare for raw emotion as well.

"We wanted to do a show that did justice to black folks who happen to live in America. It (television) just seemed to call out for it," said Farquhar.

The time also seemed right for a black-oriented show created by an African-American, he said. Farquhar is black; his partner is white.

They developed their idea before South Central Los Angeles gained a bleak fame during the 1992 riots. Other cities would have worked as a setting, but Los Angeles had a clear symbolic advantage.

"The title 'South Central' now carries a very strong emotional connotation for people," says Weithorn. "They remember what they saw on TV, on the news. They bring to the show a knowledge of the world we're talking about.

"Against that background, we see one family struggling to do the best it can," he said.

Some said the show wouldn't work. Like folks at CBS, who first bought the idea, then beat a nervous retreat.

"They told us point blank they were looking for a '90s 'Good Times' or a black 'Roseanne,' to use the prototype phrases tossed about," recounts Farquhar.

Not what these independent writers intended.

"'Good Times' is rooted in a very obvious sitcom formula that is a throwback to the '50s," said Farquhar. What he and Weithorn wanted was to advance the sitcom look through modern camera work and to add dramatic resonance.

"As for 'Roseanne,' that's not a black family existence; can't do it," he said succinctly.

In stepped Fox, home of such throwaway fare as "Martin" but also the network of "Roc," one of the few black sitcoms that has tried to stretch beyond jive-talking characters and cheap laughs.

Fox executives "have completely supported our vision," says Farquhar. "They have not come in and asked us to downplay any aspect of it. It's been full steam ahead."

In last night's episode, Joan Mosley (Lifford) has been laid off; she's desperately job-hunting before her children find out and money runs out. We see family confrontations over small issues that speak of larger tragedies.

When her teen-age son Andre (Larenz Tate) wants a beeper so his girlfriends have a private way to contact him, mom adamantly refuses.

"You know damn well what kind of slimy scum carry around beepers," she says, a reference to the drug dealers who have proven a boon to the pager industry.

She also calls Andre on the carpet for using a vulgar term for women that is favored by rap artists; Lifford artfully bats away his claim that it's "just an expression." Read Next Article