Friday, October 19, 2018

BET, TJ Holmes, Debra Lee – Explains Why She Doesn’t Offer More Positive Programming.

October 20, 2012 by  
Filed under Ent., News, Opinion, Weekly Columns

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( This week, BET’s President, Debra Lee, commented on the style of programming being offered by her network and the response from her viewers.   At the same time, Sheila Johnson, co-founder of BET, criticized the network for it’s offerings, stating that the company squandered a chance to give black America a voice.  Lee and Johnson’s remarks open the door for an intriguing dialogue about the power of media to shape minds, and whether or not we’ve been using this power responsibly.

In an article on, Sheryl Huggins Solomon asked if black people really want to have a voice at all.  Her measuring stick of whether or not we want that voice appears to be related to our decision to watch BET’s new documentary, “Second Coming? Will Black America Decide the 2012 Election,” or the new TJ Holmes show, “Don’t Sleep!”  I became immediately concerned with Sheryl’s column, because it seemed to argue that it’s the audience’s fault that BET has become determined to produce toxic programming.  Also, the idea of daring black people to support your event in order to prove their blackness is not much different from what Tavis Smiley  did to President Obama back when he called him out for not attending his “State of the Black Union” event back in 2008.

At a recent screening of the new documentary, someone asked Debra Lee if the network was going to aim for better programming, with Debra Lee stating that, ”Over the 28 years I’ve been at BET, we’ve tried different shows, series and nightly news, and it’s always a matter of what are people going to show up to watch. We started a new show last week called Don’t Sleep! With T.J. Holmes, which is supposed to address these kinds of issues. It’s designed to be a mix of entertainment and news and commentary. We hoped it would have been a Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert-type show.”

Lee then went on to explain that the ratings game is what drives her to continue with content that is less than desirable:
“To be honest, the ratings haven’t been great in the past two weeks (referring to Holmes’ show).  Our audience always says they want this kind of programming, but they don’t show up,” Lee said.
 Here’s the challenge for Debra Lee.  First, when you consider the impact that positive programming is going to have on your audience, you have to realize what kind of audience you’ve created.  I can’t tell you how many educated black folks I’ve met who simply say, “I refuse to watch BET anymore.”  So, effectively, a disproportionate chunk of the BET audience might consist of people who either enjoy brain dead programming or only look to BET to give them brain dead programming.  You can’t give your child candy for breakfast, lunch and dinner until he’s 10 years old, and then expect him to become a Vegan.
The second problem for BET (which I discuss in more detail in my book, “Black American Money“) is capitalism.  As a Finance Professor, I teach on Capitalism all the time.  As a black man, I’ve noted how our addiction to hardcore capitalism has made it nearly impossible for African Americans to achieve liberation as a people.  Raw capitalism effectively convinces you that money is the most important thing in the world….Or, as a  rapper on BET might say, “If it don’t make dolluhs shawty, then it don’t make sense.”  The easiest path to slavery is to form an addiction to a commodity that you do not control.
The problem with the “Money Rules” methodology is that it doesn’t make much room for a double bottom line that also incorporates social responsibility as part of your business model.  So, if TJ Holmes gets a million viewers and Lil Wayne gets 1.5 million, capitalism tells you to drop TJ show you can show more of Weezy.  What this model fails to consider is that the creation of more toxic programming further undermines the intellectual quality of your audience, making it even more difficult for the next TJ Holmes to have a successful show.  This also fails to mention the negative externalities produced by teaching a million black kids to act like Lil Wayne.
My advice to Debra Lee?  Make your money, but allow the garbage to subsidize the intellectual health food.  TJ Holmes’s show might not make as much money as the BET Awards, but he is an intelligent black man, a great role model, and someone with the capacity to bring positive issues to light for a struggling community.  The fat child who’s been given candy his whole life might not like the vegetables at first, but if you throw in a bit of health food with the fattening stuff, he might actually learn to appreciate it.  Remember:  Billionaire Bob Johnson could have still made several hundred million dollars by creating more conscientious programming.  I don’t fault the brother for making money; instead, I fault him for his GREED.
BET’s audience is a reflection of what the network has become over the years.  To regain a quality audience that appreciates quality programming, we can’t just rely on money-hungry, myopic investments that only allow you to consider next quarter’s profit margin.  But the challenge for BET is that when white people own you, your latitude for creating positive black programming is severely diminished, since the white executive in the suburbs could care less if the network he runs is teaching black boys to murder one another in the street.  This, my friends, is why we must have more black-owned, conscientious media, for the only way to true freedom is to learn how to OWN SOMETHING.
Staff Writer; Dr. Boyce Watkins
Dr. Boyce Watkins is the founder of the Your Black World Coalition. For more information, please visit


15 Responses to “BET, TJ Holmes, Debra Lee – Explains Why She Doesn’t Offer More Positive Programming.”
  1. Has anyone asked executive Debra Lee of BET if she has watched the televangelists on her network late at night? I am concerned about them. Most of them are white, and a preponderance of their audience is black, often sad, needy, and rather gullible-sounding people. These “preachers” and “doctors” do not ask for “gifts” or “donations”. They ask the listener to plant a “seed” (sometimes as much as $1000) and to put it on their credit card. And they absolutely guarantee God will reward the seed-giver with riches, good health , tax exemptions, a free house, etc.. I am concerned that some of these people who send them money may have to forego food, rent, or needed medical care because they have given their little money away. Is Debra Lee aware of this situation? And does she condone it?

  2. Ras The Exhorter says:

    I don’t understand what changes that BET can make will please you. I for one am happy that BET has taken the time script and produce a show that actually educates and entertains in the same fashion as Daily Show and Colbert Report. As a community we have never been offered programming of this style, not by VH1, MTV, Comedy Central. Despite what many “black bourgeoisie” claim BET has come a very long way from it’s hot ghetto mess days. We should support rather than complain and say it’s too late for you to put on this programming and wait for some black billionaire to create another viable option for programming. WE should watch the show offer critiques and support this “highly intelligent” black man who puts on a great show. When is the last time you have watched BET, you constantly critique it but don’t hesitate to appear on their news docs. How about you sit down watch the show for a week, even go down there and use your power to encourage readers to support a program that can possibly be the pancea for black programming and steer the ship in the right direction. I like you haven’t watched BET in a long while but I do believe like many that everyone deserves a second chance, and this is BET’s attempt at righting the programming wrongs that they have made in the past years since it’s sale to Viacom. I say give it a chance, I hear people complaining and crying about it being owned by white people, but so is 100% of your other programming choices are. Let’s not forget the heritage of BET, and how they employ the most black executives in the world. Let’s give this show a chance before condeming BET for taking a step forward.

  3. Mack says:

    The fault doesn’t lay behind the audience, which is primarily teens and young adults. Can’t blame them for having a ‘sweet tooth’ and for choosing fluff over filler. The issue really lies behind the fact that for the past 25 years single moms in the black community have allowed TV to raise their kids instead of doing it themselves.

    No one told these ladies that when you choose single parenthood you have to work twice as hard at raising your kids. That may also include twice the amount of time spent. What we’ve seen are women raising kids alone working twice as hard to get money, and trying hard to recapture an elusive youth that they squandered chasing the wrong type of men. But who was home tending the children while mom was out doing her thing?

    The article also mentioned Sheila Johnson, ex-wife of BET founder Bob Johnson. Funny you should bring her up. This is the same woman who valued family so much that she not only divorced her husband after years of marriage, taking a huge chunk of his fortune with her and knocking our first and only ever African American man from the billionaire’s club in the process; she turned around and married the same judge who presided over her divorce proceedings!

    Sheila certainly didn’t hesitate to squander her chance to give black America a voice when it comes to honoring your vows and sustaining family; but instead chose to go the route of capitalism like the company her husband founded.

    And this is the problem! We have people like this in positions to do much good for the collective, who instead run behind dollar signs seeking an elusive power they can never seem to obtain. No one seems willing to sacrifice personal comfort and luxury for the benefit of future generations.

    When Bob Johnson sold BET to Viacom, I knew it was the end of an era. And its been all downhill since.

  4. feliciq says:

    I dont watch BET because of the lack of postive programs , don’t sleep is postive, but because she but bet news and entertainint into one show it looks ghetto s hell. When you have two subjects in a hour that you have to do you have to rush the audience even the guests. Last year they a a topic that discussed police pulling over men of color, with big r&b star like Anthony Hamilton and more TJ ws rushing the guest that came they didnt even get to finish what. These are celebritys were talking about here, you dont do that. Its not even a full hour. What is debra to cheap tp put night entertainment and bet on different hours. Common sense will tell you it wont be enough time in a hour to focus on more than one thing. The show is too late. Plus tj is mixed can we get a black man to hoat the show. Bet complains so much abouy outside being racist when they do it. So many times through years they have constantly put biracial as main characters. Biracial girls as pretty soft, can keep a men, while black girls evil loud rude cant keep married like this new show they have on bet.

    Also stop the game show what only black know how to play football, and get happy there, the stereotype us right in the face then wonder why we dont watch bet. Can u get a love story with real black people, can see a soap oprah its 2012 latina tv and Africa has one why can we. Can Can bet stop twofaced, they have a dont sleep show, while still making blar thug movies. Can i see a black as a lawyer or a black women as a fashion designer in a movie. Can you take off lilwayne and kevin hart off bet, because thiet racist against dark skin women, but debra cares about black women rights right ? She cares about these so called black mix girls because that all she represents,and you wondet why little blar girls are bleaching thier skin and killing there selfs.Bet dose not represent black in a good way its time for bet to go or debra to step down from her job. Protest we had enough!

  5. Kamilah says:

    Couldn’t have said it any better. Excellent!

  6. Jose Sanchez says:

    I completely agree. To be honest, I wasn’t even aware that BET was attempting to elevate the morale… I’m in my midtwenties and I stopped watching television in general. It was simply a waste of time. Too much open information in the world to waste my hours on a bunch of nonsense… There’s a dichotomy between Morality and Raw Capitalism. Increase Morality and you might short change yourself. Once you teach someone to be better they might no longer need you. Our materialistic greed has mastered the art of diminishing the soul of individuals and turning it into dollar bills. Sounds like Alchemy to me…

  7. Aqeel says:

    This is an excellent article. I stopped watching BET exactly because of the reasons mentioned in the article. BET appeals to the least common denominator of intellect among its viewers. Before BET was auctioned off to the highest bidder at the altar of sacrifice of the deep interests of its African-American viewers, I eagerly looked forward to such programs as Beverly Smith’s Sunday morning discussions of relevant topics, BET News and a bevy of positive and informative programs. I agree that the feeding of negativity is a self-prepetuating circle. I still remember experiencing the joy of seeing the first T.V. Network targeting and addressing the concerns of African-Americans specifically; now I feel nothing but shame and disappointment whenever I am reminded that such a thing as BET still exists.

  8. A few years ago I was on the Debra Lee bandwagon of burning down BET. But then I realize that it is the audience fault. Black people don’t like good programming. The ratings speak for themselves. The highest rating show for African-Americans is Basketball Wives LA and American Idol. BET don’t have negative shows outside of 106 and Park. They used have a firefighting show. Keisha Cole and Daniel Gibson show is not going to be the same as her first go around. BET has changed. And yes BET needs to make money. Thats the point of TV. To make money. Right now black people like bad shows. There is no way around that. So lets trying to fight BET like its the enemy and support the movement. Teen Summit and BET News stop coming on because people stop watching. This was before Viacom. As a filmmaker I feel like black people will cash out for a Tyler Perry type movie rather than a good movie. You know who is Charles Burnett is? Julie Dash? Its simple to blame but its harder to fight.

  9. Pat says:

    Very well said, CJ!

  10. The Soul Man says:

    Oh doctah’ did we have this conversation before?? Or maybe it could have been a colleague there at blackman, and I admire your spunk to get folks talking because “BANGING SKULLS IS HEALTHY “, but you cannot make the horse drink at the trough and blame Bob for not giving the horse an “I V DRIP” we all know that BET is an Oreo. Cookie and if people choose to enjoy those creamy white centers only they will get the sugar diabetes. The only way you can prevent this from happening is before one gets in let’s say “PRO CREATION MODE” you better have a plan to raise your family correctly,

  11. CJ says:

    ‘What this model fails to consider is that the creation of more toxic programming further undermines the intellectual quality of your audience, making it even more difficult for the next TJ Holmes to have a successful show’

    The problem with that thinking is the idea that a corporation like Viacom cares whether or not their shows are of an ‘intellectual’ quality. That bird flew the next 20 years ago. No more Teen Summit, no more BET News. It should be called CET or NET…I’ll let you figure out what the new initials mean.

  12. Pat says:

    Excellent article!


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  1. […] new original programming with stronger premises and backed by industry heavy hitters. After Debra Lee’s comments on the lackluster success of “Don’t Sleep with T.J Holmes,” I wonder is BET answering the […]

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  3. […] as saying the reason the network has failed to produce and air more positive programming is that its audience doesn’t have an appetite for it. Over the 28 years I’ve been at BET, we’ve tried different shows, series and nightly news, and […]

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