Jul 12, 2005

An Open Letter To Reginald Hudlin

Mr. Hudlin,

This has been a very good year for you, Mr. Hudlin. You have an animated series greenlighted for Cartoon Network this fall, a pair of very well-written comics courtesy of Marvel Comics, and now, you're the president of entertainment of BET.

Now, bring some entertainment to the network.

Okay, okay, that was a little harsh of me. But, you see, I've been watching BET off and on for a good portion of the 25 years the network has been on the air (little known fact: 25 years ago, both USA and BET shared channel space before becoming their own individual networks, not unlike Nickelodeon and the Arts Channel [now A&E Network]). Over the past decade, BET has gotten a bad rap (no pun intended) of being nothing more than an outlet that showcases the negative, materialistic side of "urban" culture, and they wouldn't be wrong. BET has minimized its news/forum programming and still remains hip-hop music central.

I don't hate hip-hop, but I can guess that Black Entertainment isn't just limited to a lineup comprised mostly of music videos.

Look at TV One. Great network with off-network sitcoms, variety shows, and dramas not owned by the parent company as well as original programming. Black Family Channel does offer a lot of college sports, forum programming, and a few reality shows, but their lineup is mostly religious programming and a few foreign general entertainment acquisitions like Cybernet. These two channels, in their short lifetime, has, in essence, proved that black entertainment is not a code word for 2/3 music videos.

Unless BET intends on renaming itself MTV Black, you are the network's last hope. I can offer advice, and I know where the network's weaknesses are and how to repair them.

For example:

- Target younger viewers in some timeslots: Cable networks once dedicated progamming to younger audiences back in the day. Even BET aired fare like The Jackson 5ive in the mornings. But in the era of the big three (that's Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, and Disney), cable networks have conceded children's entertainment to those networks. I'm not saying they should air thematic blocks ala Miguzi, SNICK, or Jetix, but they could at least provide an alternative to Kids Next Door, All Grown Up, or Proud Family reruns on a Saturday morning. Heck, pick up reruns of C-Bear and Jamal, Kid 'N Play, Fat Albert, or something just to get started.

- STOP AIRING VIDEOS IN ALL OPEN SLOTS: Sixteen hours of music videos is twelve hours too many. Seriously, 106th and Park is another Viacom-guided TRL clone. I never understood why a daily top-10 video countdown show is worth watching. That's three hours gone. Music videos shouldn't be a backbone of a network that wasn't solely dedicated to music videos (unlike MTV, whose first name is Music, and VH1, whose first and middle name is Video Hits), and Black Entertainment shouldn't just be limited to sixteen hours of music videos a day.

- Add more non-Viacom-owned sitcoms and dramas: Sony Pictures Television has plenty of modern and classic shows by themselves. Benson, Julia, Sanford and Son, Temperatures Rising, Diff'rent Strokes, The Jeffersons, What's Happening!, What's Happening Now!!, I Spy, 227, and Good Times are just a few that could fit in at BET. Seriously, they need to get in on that.

- Develop more original sitcoms and dramas: No, this doesn't translate to more reality shows. I'd like to see more original scripted programming, not another retread of an MTV show. Blowin' Up Fatty Koo?!? College Hill? The hell?! Mr. Hudlin, you're one of the most talented producers out there. Prove it!

- Bring back news/public affairs programming: No, this doesn't translate to more documentaries surrounding the Rap It Up initituative. I'd like to see more forums dedicated to current affairs, non-entertainers making a difference, and real documentaries and newsworthy specials.

BET could be the best urban channel out there, and I have a lot of confidence you could make it happen, Mr. Hudlin. You're the network's last hope.

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