Melissa Ingram, general manager of Atlanta-based AspireTV, grew up watching stars like Keisha Knight Pulliam on her television every Thursday night. She said she vividly remembers sitting in front of the screen with her father as they watched the “Cosby Show” and “Family Ties.”
Even as a young child, Ingram understood the power of quality representation when she saw Rudy–a brown skin girl roughly her age–on prime time television.
“It was the first time in which I saw myself,” she said. “I felt very seen, and I didn’t feel alone,” Ingram said.
Little did she know, she would later go to school at Spelman College with the child star and those memories with her dad would shape her vision for multicultural programming with Up Entertainment—AspireTV’s parent company.
Ingram serves as the senior vice president multicultural networks and strategy at UP Entertainment. She has made it her profession to ensure more people can see themselves reflected in the media they consume.
Network With Us in Mind
Under Ingram’s creative direction, Aspire provides Black and urban lifestyle programming created by and for African Americans. She also works with Up Entertainment’s Latinx-focused network Cine Romántico that streams free ad-supported movies in Spanish.
With targeted programming for these groups, Ingram hopes her work will help illuminate the diversity within these communities and provide people with individuals that are representative of them in some way. Whether it be in how they dress or how they talk, Ingram said, everyone should be able to pinpoint a person on television that reflects their lived experiences.
Aspire originally began as a family-network created by Magic Johnson to bring the Black family back in front of the television. Ingram notes that in the current digital age that mission wasn’t realistic because people of all ages including children watch programming on multiple devices.
The network would evolve after Johnson left the brand and become one associated with lifestyle content. When looking at the landscape of television, Ingram said their researchers noticed black audiences were very supportive of lifestyle networks.
She said that they’re watching HGTV, do it yourself videos and cooking shows. “But the reality is that they weren’t seeing themselves. They weren’t being mirrored,” Ingram said.
They were missing authentic representations of themselves in this area of media where they were large consumers.
The idea to transition the Aspire to a lifestyle network came after working with Issa Rae and her team on a cooking show they have called Butter + Brown. The network would go on to produce the show for three seasons.
New Black Renaissance in Television
In the past years, media has evolved. Ingram said production companies have made space for creatives with varying experiences to shine, and she loves that people of color like Tabitha Brown are becoming household names.
Ingram also notes that this shift has also foster collaboration instead competition.
“There aren’t enough of us right now to say that we are in competition with one another. We don’t have enough of black content creators on mainstream networks or on independent networks,” Ingram said.
“I say flood the gates.”
After the murder of George Floyd, Ingram said she saw the industry really pore into black-owned businesses and creative endeavors.
“Some big brands and big advertisers are coming forward saying we want to allocate dollars to this community. We want to allocate dollars to black content creators,” Ingram said.
“It’s an exciting time, and we’ll see if what they said actually holds up,” she added.
Next for Aspire
The network continues to double down on their promise to produce original content for audiences to see themselves. Ingram says they have several shows coming soon to Atlanta.
Chef G. Garvin, restauranteur and producer of Butter + Brown, will be coming back in front of the camera, said Ingram. He will host his own cooking show that will premiere in October.
Viewers can expect the network to have more design and home organizational programming. Ingram said the pandemic taught us all the importance of cleaning out our pantries, closets, and other nooks and crannies.
As the network conceptualizes ways to bring content to their audiences, Ingram said they want to be in all the places that their audiences consume content. They are looking to meet their audiences wherever they are whether that means on Youtube, through podcasts, or on an app.
“The goal is to celebrate, reflect and share Black culture and urban lifestyle in a way that changes the way in which we see ourselves and the way in which we see each other,” Ingram said.