Universal seems to have cornered the market on recasting iconic characters that were originally white as African-American.
One of the first examples came in the feature film reimagining of the 1962-6 hit, McHale's Navy, when it was decided that the role of Ensign Charles Parker, played by Tim Conway in the original series, would be given to David Alan Grier (ex-In Living Color). This was hardly noticed, considering that this version, with Tom Arnold as the son of the original McHale (Ernest Borgnine), was a bomb.
To describe the 2005 remake of the iconic 1973-8 crime drama, Kojak, as another bomb would be just too kind. Then again, Universal has continued to repeat the mistake of taking an iconic series from the past and trying to re-fit it into the present, and failing. Badly.
I think the idea behind recasting the lead role of Theo Kojak with an African American actor, in this case, Ving Rhames ("Striptease", "Mission: Impossible"), was that someone at the studio believed that Kojak himself wasn't Greek in background, though original star Telly Savalas was. Unfortunately, Rhames lasted just 9 weeks. USA slotted the series on Sunday nights at 10 (ET), which was fine, though I'm hard-pressed to remember what night the original Kojak aired. However, viewers voted with their remotes. They weren't buying Rhames, a good, quality actor, as Kojak. Period. It ain't his fault. It's the fault of the jabronies who cast him. Chazz Palmatieri co-starred.
By way of Hulu, here's the pilot:
There've been rumors of a feature film version, with Vin Diesel attached. Hmmmmmm.