During a recent speaking engagement at the Carmel Art and Film Festival in Monterey County California, Sheila Johnson, the co-founder of BET, had a few choice words about the current state of the network. In reminiscing about the network, she did praise Teen Summit as being one of her greatest accomplishments, “All those young people on the show became so successful because they had a voice. And we were talking about issues out there and they became leaders in life”.

Years ago, Sheila Johnson and her ex-husband saw a way to make even more money from BET by selling it to Viacom. How could anyone forget that move?

In 2000, Johnson sold the network to Viacom for a reported $3 billion and he then became the first Black billionaire.  As people still try to figure out who benefited from this sell, besides the Johnsons and Viacom, BET’s purpose has been questioned for quite some time.  Is she happy with the current direction of BET? Apparently not. She said the network “reinforces negative stereotypes of young people, African-Americans in particular.” She also went on to say, “I think we squandered a really important cable network, when it really could have been the voice of Black America. We’re losing our voice as a race as a result. I’m really worried about what our young people are watching. There are so many young people who are using the television as a babysitter. We have parents who are not being parents and not monitoring what their children are watching”.

To BET’s credit, over the past two years, their programming has improved vastly. With a new lineup of shows this fall,  like TJ Holmes’ Don’t Sleep, Being Mary Jane, The Mathis Project, The Real Husbands of Hollywood and Apollo Live, it seems as though there is a huge attempt to move the network into a different direction.

Do you think Sheila Johnson has any room to complain about the current state of BET, when under the Johnson helm,  some people say its programming was already losing value?

  • Cocochanel31

    I think they are moving into a more positive space than they had in the past. Outside of Teen Summit and Video Soul what of value did BET ever offer????

    TVONE is doing a great job of standing in the gap and providing quality black programming. I’m not even sure what shows are on BET anymore, since I’ve outgrown caring about music videos. I am disapointed that the TJ Holmes show has some sort of dry humour component to it.

    Should’ve just made it a nightly news show like when Ed Gordon had his show on there.

  • elyse

    Haven’t watched BET in forever, but I am happy with this new line up. Never knew about any of these shows outside of Don’t Sleep. Could get interesting.

  • African Mami

    I guess. But, I would love to hear what she thinks the network oughts to do, in order to revamp its image, since she was an insider at one point….solutions oriented.

  • Erin

    Wait, I thought Oprah was the first black billionaire. I must be wrong.

  • http://gravatar.com/jamesfrmphilly jamesfrmphilly

    BET has been a major disappointment to me.
    they have damaged a generation of young black people.
    just the opposite of what was hoped for.

    i lesson in what you get when money is your first priority.

  • Yb

    “I think we squandered a really important cable network, when it really could have been the voice of Black America”

    What she said there was completely true, and its a shame. But honestly her and her husband can partly be blamed for what BET has become, and instead of complaining they need to take responsibility for it.

  • beautiful mic

    I thought it would have improved when ‘The Game’ started airing, but then that show went down hill.

    The Ed Gordan show was the last really good production on there. I don’t know much about this new line up, but I saw a preview of The Real Dads…which looks like a bunch of scripted buffoonery – not impressed.

  • Lisa R. McKinney

    Mrs. Johnson is absolutely right when she talks of BETs squandered opportunity. Our voice has been missing from important national debates that have been raging for years now. The decision to sell to Viacom was short-sighted. A few people made a lot of money from the sale of BET to Viacom, but what was truly lost was our ability to weigh-in, discuss and debate the issues that directly impact our community. There was a forum for these discussions once upon a time..they were called “Our Voices with Bev Smith” and “Lead Story” as well as “Teen Summit.”

  • Starla

    I never liked BET even when I was a teenager. I just found it odd that the French CBC channel was showing more documentaries about Africa and black people in the diaspora. BET always just showed videos, 6 million reruns of the SAME movie. It never spoke to who I was as a black person. Never played any jazz, oldies, or world music; a game show, cooking show, or anything remotely educational. Just rap, rap and more rap.

    If there is indeed an evolution going on over there then I wish them my best, but that is one channel that will never be a part of my life going forward.

  • cocochanel31

    Real Husbands of Hollywood looks sooo dumb! I’m still not sure what it was about!

    Yes Sheila has some nerve to talk since the Johnson’s didn’t have anything positive on there outside of Teen Summit!

    I say we must continue to support TV One which is doing great things!

  • http://educatedmusings360.wordpress.com educatedmusings360

    The other day I noticed that in the afterschool hours, they are playing reruns of 90s sitcoms like The Parkers, Moesha, Jamie Foxx, etc. That’s better than playing booty shaking all afternoon while the parents aren’t home. They still have a ways to go when it comes to a full scope of black entertainment, but I will at least give them props for that.

  • http://valsotherblog.wordpress.com Val

    Sheila Johnson is still running around trying to save her legacy by pretending that she and her husband didn’t have anything to do with how crappy BET was and is. I guess she figures if she tells this lie often enough that people will believe her.

  • Child, Please

    I’m sure she regrets it a lot since they started it from the ground up and wanted the focus to be on black entertainment and not gimmicks, but I guess it’s a price you pay when you want to get the green and aren’t thinking about the future as much. I do wonder what the conversations with Viacom were like and if they were truly under the impression that the sell would improve BET. I would say that at that point BET had made some strides; they had a No.1 hit show (106 & Park) and had established an award show that most probably thought wouldn’t last past a year. While BET was greatly video and music centered, compared to what I saw in the past five years, I’d rather have that back than The Parkers re-runs and tired Keyshia Cole reality shows.

  • Rue

    Sheila, Please!
    Take a lesson from Steve Jobs: Don’t quit your company and then go around and whine about it.

  • maya

    what is she complaining for when SHE sold out to the white man!!!

  • Q.Lazen

    I don’t get it. BET was ratchet before it was sold and is even more ratch now that it’s sold.

  • http://gravatar.com/nolakiss16 binks

    This! I am agreeing with you a lot lately…lol Ms. Shelia Johnson please take one of these _/ because you can point the finger all you want but one is pointing one back at you.

  • sandykess

    Teen Summit and Planet Grove were great. But besides that Bet wasn’t THAT great back then and currently isn’t great now. BET makes ‘Black people’ look monolithic and always had. Where is the jazz, the pop, the rock, metal? Black people listen to and make these type of music too! How about music that exists outside the mainstream? There should be a show that shows alternative music or even music outside of the US. Some of us don’t live there. I just, ugh, I get so annoyed!

  • Viva Lola


  • Sick

    Hate to say this but BET never lived up to its potential, even when the Johnsons had it. It is so terrible because there is so much potential there. Think of all the important programming they could have that is uplifting and good for blacks, then and now. So sad, we had a station that could have been what black radio was in the sixties, but no one there had vision!!!!! Sad, sad, sad…

  • Genuinesol

    Exactly Val! That is what bothers me the most about her criticism of BET. BET was reinforcing negative imagery of black Americans under her and her husband’s reign long before they sold the channel to Viacom. If anything, BET has become more socially aware and diverse in recent times or is at least making sincere strives towards that end.

    It just irritates me the way she pretends as if the channel was such intelligent and diverse entertainment when they were at the helm and firmly established the foundation for the mess that many feel we have now.

  • Amanda

    Shelila Johnson needs to have a seat. Times have changed significantly, but Bet is trying. Let’s look at the quality sitcoms they air, Reed between the lines anyone? Also, the decision to air Black Girls Rock inspires Little black girls around the country. For news programming, T. J Holmes is riveting and really provoking thoughtful discussion on OUR issues. Also, everytime an important issue arises that directly affects our community, BET addresses it head on. So Sheila please, have a seat and if you have a problem suggest more great programming, but dont criticize the great efforts that have already been made.

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