Andre Harrell Was The Man Behind One Of The Biggest Shows Of The 90s
As the music world mourns the loss of legendary record executive Andre Harrell, more is being revealed of the impact he made not just in music, but in entertainment as a whole. Harrell is responsible for launching the careers of artists such as Diddy and Mary J. Blige and putting urban R&B of the 90s on the map with his innovation of merging hip hop with soul and R&B.
Outside of music, Harrell made his mark on the television industry with one of the most popular series of the 1990s with New York Undercover.
‘New York Undercover’ is known as the original hip hop drama
New York Undercover premiered on FOX in September 1994. The cop drama centered around New York City detectives working to investigate and solve drug-related cases. Harrell was the executive producer of the series.
It marked the first police drama on American television with two actors of color in the lead roles. Malik Yoba and Michael DeLorenzo starred as Detective J.C. Williams and Detective Eddie Torres. Lauren Valez was cast in the second season as Nina Moreno and became Torres’s love interest.
Prior to New York Undercover, hip hop artists made appearances on television shows but only in the comedy space. The show marked the first to involve the culture in a drama related to what most rap artists rapped about in their music.
The writers on the show also made sure to pull directly from what was happening in hip hop and applied to the stories depicted on the show. For example, the episode “Kill The Noise” was inspired by the real-life murder of 2Pac.
The musical elements and features of artists as guests can be attributed to Harrell.
Pushback on ‘New York Undercover’ was present throughout its run
New York Undercover was part of FOX’s Thursday night lineup, coming after Living Single and Martin.
Despite its popularity among viewers, as explained in TV One’s Unsung Hollywood, FOX was resistant from the start. Law & Order SVU creator Dick Wolf also co-created and had a difficult time working with the network executives.
At the time, there was no show on a broadcast network that featured a dominant African-American and Latino cast. Prior to the show, there was no series that highlighted a love story between a Latino couple nor an Afro-Latino one, despite the relationships representing the multiculturalism of the country. Harrell and Wolf fought tirelessly to ensure those themes were included in the series.
Despite being a ratings hit among black and Latino viewers, FOX was not impressed. Author Kristal Brent Zook covered the clash between the creatives on the show and FOX executives in her book Color by Fox: The Fox Network and the Revolution in Black Television. “They thought if they added some white people, that the show would continue on, and it didn’t work that way,” said director and executive producer Don Kurt, who is a white male.
The series aired for five seasons before its cancellation in 1999. It currently airs in syndication.