For more than a generation, our community has had a love-hate relationship with Black Entertainment Television. We were proud that such a large and originally Black-owned business became so successful, but we have often been less than overwhelmed with some of the program choices that we were given by the first large television network branded totally with our community in mind.
Too often our community was subjected to the lowest common denominator of entertainment under the guise of “this is what sells.” So we have seen more than our share of videos with booty shaking women and cheap reality shows. Too many women felt as though they were being objectified and humiliated on the network because folks thought that we had less value, and how we were portrayed in the media did not matter. And, of course, the network hit a new low with “Hot Ghetto Mess”–what were they thinking?
But it appears that the network may be finally turning the corner. Last week, BET began airing original episodes of the television show “The Game,” a show that had originally aired on the CW network for several seasons, but had a difficult time finding a place at a network mainly designed for teenage white girls.
The show, which depicts in a realistic way the lives, loves and challenges of professional football players and their friends and families, was a ratings bonanza for the network. The show pulled in 7.7 million viewers, the highest rated scripted show in basic cable history. BET is showing that it can produce quality programming, and that if we see a good product on the network, we will show up and watch in large numbers.
But quality programming comes at a price. “The Game” costs over $1 million an episode, far exceeding those embarrassing music videos and reality shows that we have all talked so despairingly about, and tried to keep away from our children because we knew they were sending the wrong message.
This is a great beginning and what we hope is a real rebirth for BET. The network has been around for 31 years. Launched on Jan. 25, 1980, so many of us had so much invested in seeing this media outlet really succeed. And in some ways it has. BET has always been a financially viable operation, that is why it was bought by Viacom at a premium, making Bob and Sheila Johnson and many others very wealthy.
And over the last couple of years, we have seen programming that we can be proud of, especially the network’s coverage of the Democratic convention in 2008, and the coverage of our first Black president, Barack Obama. From Obama’s State of the Union address, to his other major speeches, BET has been there giving a Black perspective to news. And while more news has been creeping back into the programming along with scripted shows, we need to see even more news and news analysis specifically aimed at people of color in the programming mix.
BET has the potential to become a real television juggernaut. We as a people have always known its potential, and that is why we have been so disappointed when it has not met our expectations. But we see what can happen when programmers respect their audience, put their money where the mouths are, and try giving us television programs and information that we can relate to and respect. In fact, BET producers are beginning to treat us like an audience of adults, and not simpleminded adolescences.
Good job, BET, you are finally growing up, and are showing us that you can both entertain and, at times, educate and inform us. Let’s hope that this is just the beginning of the next 30 years, which can and must be even more fruitful. Happy birthday, BET, we expect every year from now on to be better and better!