Last week, BET president Debra Lee was surprisingly candid in explaining why her network has yet to make a 100% turnaround in terms of presenting what we typically call ‘positive’ content:
“Our audience always says they want this kind of programming, but they don’t show up.”
Lee doesn’t get a total pass in my book; just as I personally hold certain rappers responsible for deciding that the pursuit of riches is worth selling out their community and presenting images that make Black people look like the absolute scum of the earth. I know she’s gotta keep the lights on over at the network Aaron Mcgruder once called “Butts Every Time,” but I also think that the strides towards improving BET’s image have come a bit to slowly. And she sat at the helm of the channel for years before the makeover began … what was she thinking beforehand?
I do applaud her for her efforts to turn things around, however, and we should note the marked difference in 2012’s Black Entertainment Television from that we knew in 2002 (“Uncut,” anyone?) And I’m also sad to admit that she seems to have a point.
Don’t Sleep is pretty darn good; TJ Holmes isn’t quite Jon Stewart, but he’s off to a great start. Second Coming is a great documentary that seemed to have the right balance needed to entertain and enlighten audiences across age groups and educational levels. And while there could certainly be a conversation about the quality of the writing and acting on Reed Between the Lines and Let’s Stay Together … we are the same race of people who’ve made Tyler Perry a millionaire many times over. And we’ve padded the pockets of more than a few rappers and singers who cannot sing, nor rap.
What, we fancy now?
It’s not that we should settle for mediocrity just because it challenges the negative images that BET once featured most prominently. However, we’ve spent years grumbling and complaining about the lack of ‘positive’ television shows, but haven’t invested much time in supporting the controversial network’s efforts to create better ones.
We don’t owe BET or its parent company Viacom anything. We don’t have to watch Black shows just because they are Black. Yet, we certainly tune in to watch the Love and Hip-Hops and the Real Housewives by the droves. Do we really want better images of Black people on the tube, or do we just say that we do because we know that we should want better?
Thinking of Perry again for a second, look at the box office numbers for some of his non-Madea films (Alex Cross doesn’t count because he wasn’t at the helm AND no one with any good sense anywhere expected it to do anything other than flop). The mogul himself has threatened to retire the sassy grandma, but he brings her back out the costume shop every few years because she typically sells a lot more tickets than his Daddy’s Little Girls and Good Deeds-type of films. And ain’t none of them particularly well written, so why is that okay when Madea’s around, but not when he’s trying to do something else?
Maybe we just like buffoonery. Not all of us, but a significant enough number to bring in the dollars for the images that op-eds and Twitter scholars rail against.
You ain’t gotta lie to kick it, fam. If you’re content with Nene’nem, then own that! But if you say you want something better, can you also say that you have tuned in when an option was presented your way?
Why do you think BET’s efforts at presenting higher quality programming have been less successful than their more ‘low-brow’ offerings?