BET’s First Upfront Offers Style, Substance

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Black Entertainment Television mixed style and music with audience-delivery numbers and new programming announcements during its first upfront presentation to the advertising community.

The network on April 13 unveiled plans for a pair of new series: On & Off, an uncensored look at the lives of some of music’s biggest talents at work and play; and Style, an entertainment-news show updating the latest happenings in music, movies and celebrity style. These skeins will complement the debut of syndicated sitcom Girlfriends and the full basic-cable syndicated run of Soul Food, completing its fifth and final season on sister Viacom Inc. service Showtime.

BET’s primetime lineup, which begins on Oct. 4, will also rely heavily on a movie package, according to network officials.

BET, which also simulcast the event to similar gatherings of advertising executives and clients in Chicago, Detroit and Los Angeles, also took the wraps off a trio of new specials: the initial BET Comedy Awards in September; a new fashion show special slated for next spring; and a celebration of BET’s 25th anniversary in October 2005.

The network also put president of advertising sales Louis Carr in the center of a taped segment parodying the Twilight Zone. While a group of white ad-agency types pondered the value of reaching African-Americans, they spouted off a rash of stereotypes about their viewing habits and spending patterns. Carr, doing his best Rod Serling impression, provided a “reality check” in the film, as did BET Nightly News anchor Jacque Reid, standing on stage. Both punctuated the presentation with data about black buying power (about $680 billion annually) and where BET ranks in the ratings among African Americans, relative to a litany of dayparts and demos. Invariably the answer was No. 1, with first-place finishes cited with adults 18 to 49 and 25 to 54 in primetime, late night, afternoon, and early fringe, among many others.

Carr, on stage later in the presentation, also took some shots at TV One (limited distribution) and the handful of shows on the broadcast network with African Americans in the cast as being “wanna-be” purveyors of black-oriented entertainment and inadequate as means to truly reaching that audience with advertising messages.

The talent-laden upfront opened with a three-song medley from hip-hop artist Missy Elliott, who “worked” the crowd by displacing some of the ad executives in the Manhattan Center Studios from their chairs. Alicia Keys closed the evening with a soulful, piano-driven rendition of “If I Ain’t Got You,” that featured lyrics of gratitude to BET for its support of her career.

In between, BET trotted out actress and comedienne Mo’Nique, who will again serve as the host of the 2004 BET Awards. Big Boi and Andre 3000 from Outkast were also in the house, noting they’re on board for the show, set for Los Angeles on June 29.

AJ and Free, hosts of 106 & Park: BET’s Top 10 Live; Tiffany from the afterschool entertainment news and music show The Center; and Tigger, host of Rap City: Da Basement, now in its 15th year; were among the other BET talent to appear.