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BET Ramps Up Reality

4/10/2005 8:00 PM Eastern

Hoping to strengthen its brand through original programming, Black Entertainment Television will launch several new reality series during the upcoming TV season.

The network, celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, has built its audience through music-based programming and, more recently, acquired series like the off-network Girlfriends (from Viacom Inc. sibling UPN) and Soul Food (from co-owned pay TV channel Showtime).

EYEING ORIGINAL BLOCK

BET would like to debut at least two new original series next fall, then move toward a new-series launch every quarter, said head of project development Robyn Lattaker Johnson.

“I’d like to eventually launch a block of original programming in 2006,” she said. “The door is wide open and we have a lot of rope to play with.”

While BET’s audience continues to support its current music-video and celebrity programming, they’ve also expressed an interest in seeing themselves reflected on the screen.

“It’s clear our audience likes to see celebrities, but there was an overwhelming outcry from them that said we want to see people that look just like us and are reflective of the community, and we’ll give them that,” she said.

First up: Blowin’ Up Fatty Koo, a half-hour reality show debuting April 21 that follows the lives of five talented kids aiming for a career in the record business. The network is currently in pilot production on several new shows, including Remix, a half-hour “body-and-soul” makeover show; and BET’s Kickback, a group dating show in which several men and women get together in a competition/elimination format to determine which of the two participants would make the best couple.

BET will also borrow a page from NBC’s The Apprentice to develop a fast-paced reality competition that tests 12 to 15 contestants’ business acumen and street credibility.

“We have a great opportunity to make great entertainment programming,” she said.

The network will also play off the popular celebrity-poker genre to develop a series featuring stars of the hip-hop and sports communities playing spades and dominoes, she said. It’s also eyeing a yet-to-be-titled late-night talk show.

VIACOM AT ARM’S LENGTH

While the new shows figure to skew female, she said the network has other programs in the works that it hopes will draw the male demographics.

Johnson said the new moves have the support of parent Viacom, which will continue to keep BET at arm’s length. Industry speculation had been that Viacom would eventually fold BET into MTV Networks after the December departure of BET CEO and founder Bob Johnson.

“We have a brand that is more recognizable than any other in the African-American community and Viacom supports that,” she said.

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