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?

  • Shelly

    @paul…YASSSSS! BET can’t just give us crap because it’s supposed to be positive. I still watch the Cosby Show in 2012. That show was not only positive, but well-written, along with great actors. I certainly will not support something just because I should be glad there’s no booty-shakin in it. We deserve more than that. I actually have not seen any of these supposedly ‘positive’ shows that BET now airs, but that’s because, as someone said earlier, people who seek good-quality entertainment would not dare turn their dials to BET.

  • Shelly

    cont. and i use the Cosby Show as an example because that show was wildly popular, and judging from the fact that it still airs reruns, people still watch it.

  • Deena

    BET seems to take two steps forward and one step back. I was so happy to see shows like Reed Between the Lines and Sunday Best and I thought they were finally turning a corner. Then they hit us with The Amateur Millionaires Club and I was just like- WHAT? I’ve seen it twice and don’t have a single positive thing to say about it. All I saw were lots of arguments and acting out and I don’t have a single clue who the women are on this show, or how they got their money because the show isn’t even put together well enough to tell the viewer this basic information. I haven’t gotten any insight into the lives of these women apart from that they argue a lot. Is that all black women have to offer? Does BET think thats all we’re worth? Its a TOTAL SHAMBLES and I can’t believe the network is back THERE again.

  • Ravi

    I’m fairly sure that the group that hates BET isn’t exact same group of people that love VH1. I hate both stations for the exact same reasons — poorly created scripted shows, coontastic reality television, and videos that wholesale in the comoditization of black women’s bodies. I have never been a fan of VH1 and haven’t watched BET since the 90s. Those of us that are complaining are trying to battle what we perceive as something that perpetuates negative imagery and conceptions of blackness. If you don’t share the same view of BET’s offerings, then do you. But I fail to see why we should cease our criticism based on your inability to see outside your own perspective.

  • Natsai

    Sometimes I worry if I am a pesudo intellectual, there I admit that. Because I have dogged BET for years but caught myself watching shows that I condemn. BET is just so easy to dog but recently I’ve begun to change my mind but my friends aren’t trying to hear me.

    Here’s my issue with BET. Just because it’s positive doesn’t mean it is entertaining. NO one watched the Cosby show just because they wanted to see a black family on TV, they had to be entertaining. Now with Reed Between the Lines was a slap in the face, it was like BET wasn’t listening. The whole formula of the show was painfully outdated. A show revolving around a nuclear family in 2012? Really? And everything is just peachy? It was like they remade Leave it to Beaver! BET is a lazy network which is a shame because there IS room for improvement.

    In terms of awards shows like Black Girls Rock, BET Honors, and hosting a three night long event on Ava Duvernay’s films which I guarantee no other network would have done, I still have hope for them. I love BET on Sundays! They play a bunch of independent plays and movies that I wouldn’t have known had I not tuned in. But why reserve that for just Sunday afternoons? Why reserve TJ Holmes for just one half hour A WEEK after everyone’s bedtime? That is a good show that will fail at that rate if it isn’t aired daily at TEN PM.

    My issue is BET should have BEEN reinventing itself like other stations have – MTV, VH1, Bravo, dammit even Cartoon Network! BET takes too damn long to shed its dead skin compared to other networks and that’s why it will never be taken seriously. That, and there are talented writers who will do any scripted series they have justice. Reed Between the Lines STUNK. It is 2012 the nuclear family is play okay. It is all about the blended family and/or entire family (aunts,uncles,grandparents, 2nd cousins). When you don’t take risks you fail point blank period and BET is failing. They need to choose and audience and stick to it.

    I still have faith in BET but just because I enjoy the occasional dose of ratchet doesn’t mean I shun positive shows, I watch those too. Black ppl don’t just watch ONE thing. I personally watch it all. From BBW to Real Housewives of ATL to Parenthood to Dexter. I just enjoy entertainment and BET does not do it for me. But they have so much potential still! If any other network had the stigma of BET that network would have folded YEARS ago, it’s a shame the ppl at BET don’t realize the blessing that is their viewers and really listen to them and not blame us for their lackluster ratings. Debra Lee take your millions buy a seat and sit. Stay there.

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