November 2001
Blackpopgo : A Weekly Discussion Of Art, Politics, & Pop Culture And How It Affects The Black Diaspora...Or At Least One Member Of It

Written by Vincent Williams

Blackpopgo : A Weekly Discussion Of Art, Politics, & Pop Culture And How It Affects The Black Diaspora...Or At Least One Member Of It

BET. Black. Entertainment. Television. Boy, ain't that a big sloppy mess. I honestly have nothing to really add to all the criticism and scorn that have been heaped on the channel in the last couple of years. The Tavis Smiley stuff. The Boondocks stuff. The not-paying-people stuff. I'll just nod my head along with everyone else: yeah, BET sucks ass. At this point, it's just redundant to get into yet another dissing of the station so let's just agree that, overall, the programming and production values are laughable and some of the personalities actually insulting.

Everything people have said about the station I agree with. Every. Damn. Thing. But I am not here to curse our brethren's darkness! Instead, I want to light a candle.

I could fix BET in two months.

Give me two months, Bob Johnson's rolodex, one of those IHOP endless pots of coffee and a bag of peanuts and in 8 weeks I would deliver a channel that is both entertaining AND worthy of the word, "Black" in it's title. And, I would play it straight and focus on just entertainment. As much as I would be fascinated by Spike Lee discussing the Black aesthetic with Toni Morrison and Questlove, I admit that might not be everyone's cup of tea. I could also bring it under budget. Here's how-

First, you have to clear the palette, which isn't as bloody as you would think. In BET's defense, the ratio of signal to noise has actually risen in the past couple of years. I'm sad Tavis is gone too but Ed Gordon et. al are doing a reputable job of holding down the news end. That Hits boy is pretty funny on "Hits From The Streets." I'm not mad at the children that host "106 & Park" because, you know, it's a show FOR children and Tigger has certainly grown into his role as host of "Rap City". "Comicview" is something that has to be revamped more than exed. I find "Oh Drama" repugnant and low class but then I'm a little sensitive about how sisters should act so I'd just keep an eye on that. Honestly, the only actual firing I would do would be the crew that's responsible for Cita-a character whose existence completely boggles my mind that Black women don't rise up and protest over. So we take everyone involved with Cita behind the shed and Sgt. Waters their ass (if you don't know what I'm talking about, stop reading this and go watch A Soldier's Story. Now.) before we do anything. Then we work with the remnants.

Out the box, "Comicview" is the biggest problem BET has. It is low class, ghetto, monkeyshine, shuffling foolishness. It says volumes about the state of Black people that it not only exists on a Black station but prospers. Still, it can be fixed. During my two month regime, whoever is presently in charge of finding talent for the show would be taken out behind the shed with the Cita crew and....dealt with. Then I would give their job to Paul Mooney. It's that simple.

Mooney has written for Richard Pryor and has consistently been one of the smartest, wittiest, and funniest men on the planet for three decades. And I know he needs a job because the brother is always complaining about the lack of work for intelligent Black comedians. Shoot, throw in some benefits and the appeal of shaping young comedians would get him out there. Let him set the tone for the show. Turn "Comicview" into an incubation chamber to nurture young, Black comics. Return the show to it's contest roots and bring on comedic forces like Chris Rock or Eddie Murphy or some of the Kings of Comedy (it goes without saying I would take care of the money issues D.L. Hughley and others have complained about.) to judge at the end of the season.

And the great thing about the current audience of "Comicview" is they ain't going nowhere! They've already proven they'll watch anything! Hell, apparently you could shake some keys in front of the camera and fart and they'd sit their dumb asses on the sofa and giggle. So take that audience and add in the folks who a Paul Mooney level of comedy would bring in, the ratings rise and bam! A "Comicview" we can all live with.

The other problem with BET is too many damn video shows. I'm sitting here flipping through the channel guide and the station starts showing videos at 9 a.m. and, except for stopping for the surprisingly good entertainment show "NYLA" has on some variation of video show until 8 p.m....and then there's more videos later that night. That's just stupid. I'll grant videos should have a large chunk but there's too much good stuff just floating out there for videos to make up the bulk.

Where's the children's programming? Why isn't Bill Cosby's excellent cartoon "Lil' Bill" on BET? For that matter, wouldn't "Fat Albert" be a good fit for the morning slot? How much would it cost to dust off Damon Wayans' post-"Fat Albert" toon, "Wayneheads?" The wonderful "Gullah Island" would be a great Black themed "Sesame St." type educational show. Five phone calls tops. And with the Cita & "Comicview" situation in hand, I'm fairly sure Cosby would be much more receptive to working with the channel.

For the sake of argument, I'll grant that original programming is more costly than reruns and videos. Fine. I still think you can do better than "Video Soul Gold" ('It's not new videos! It's old videos! BET...Blackstar power...') Two words. Soul. Train. Dear God, how incredible would it be to see old episodes of "Soul Train" from the seventies? Why isn't "Roc" on? Where's "Julia"? Hell, I ain't really mad at "What's Happenin?" (It had Thalmus Rashuala in it. Anything with Thalmus Rashuala is good stuff.) and that's nowhere to be found. There's a treasure trove of old Black shows that BET could show during some of the TWELVE HOURS OF FRIGGIN' VIDEOS!

Now, if you grant there might be a couple of dollars for original programming then all kinds of possibilities present themselves. With the budget BET threw around for that crappy Arabesque movie series they could have gotten a season of "The Continuing Adventures of Socrates Fortlow" from Walter Mosley's Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned. Octavia Butler's Patternmaster AND Parable series could both adapt into moderately budgeted series that could become sort of Black "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" type series. Imagine a continuing Black soap opera with supernatural undertones based on Gloria Naylor's Linden Hills. Or even a straight adaption, like "Soul Food", of the Love Jones story into a series. There's a whole world of Black entertainment that is being untapped. Hell, cut the Hughes Bros. and/or Gina Prince-Bythewood a licensing/syndication deal and let them go to town.

These are just a couple of things that shouldn't be that hard to handle with BET's influence. I haven't even thrown out the wacky stuff like a Patti Labelle cooking show or my Debarge family biopic ("The last great act of Motown. Two separate hits spawning groups. Marriage with the Jacksons. International drug cartel. Debarge. Sometimes family ties strangle." And then you have the "One More Chance" remix track playing behind shots of the movie....shoot, throw Terence Howard and Giancarlo Esposito up in that mug....maaaan...that's some good stuff....) or a Sammy Davis Jr. miniseries starring Don Cheadle or a music business round table moderated by Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes or the documentary, "Around The World With The Roots." BET should be a juggernaut that presents all of these.

But they're not.

Two months. One bag of peanuts. One pot of coffee.


Vincent Williams is a freelance writer living in Philadelphia. His writing has appeared in many publications, including the Baltimore City Paper, Philadelphia Weekly, Orlando Weekly and the Texas Black & White. His novel, temples was published in 1999 by La Caille Nous Books. As much as he despises BET in it's present state, he's very fond of BET On Jazz.