BET’s Lee Looks for Second-Term Bounce

Network Chief Hopes Inaugural Coverage, New Series Pair Will Bolster Lead with African-Americans

BET in 2013 is looking to build on its standing as the most-watched African-American targeted network with the launch of two new original series RealHusbands of Hollywood and Second Generation Wayans, both of which debuted last week to big numbers. The network will also provide extensive coverage of President Obama’s Jan. 21 inauguration. Inaugural coverage is usually the domain of news networks, but with Obama’s re-election, the ceremony holds obvious significance to BET’s target audience. Network CEO Debra Lee spoke recently with Multichannel News programming editor R. Thomas Umstead about the network’s 2013 programming plans, and reflected on the state of African-American images on television.

MCN: What should viewers expect from BET with regards to scripted programming in 2013?

Debra Lee: I’m real excited about Real Husbands of Hollywood with Kevin Hart. To have the level of participation in that series from people like Nick Cannon, Robin Thicke, J.B. Smoove and walk-on appearances by the wives and the girlfriends, I think it will be an exciting show. The Second Generation Wayans is a smart comedy that will appeal to a younger audience, so I’m very excited about both of them. We also have Being Mary Jane coming up that we’re very excited about.

MCN: What would you consider a success for Husbands and Wayans? Do they have to generate ratings similar to The Game?

DL: We’re hoping for Game-like numbers because there’s so much buzz. If they do a 2 rating I would be very happy, but we aim so much higher than that. Between our audience being very active on social media and the buzz around the actors, we’ll see what happens. [Real Husbands of Hollywood drew 4.1 million viewers; Second Generation Wayans averaged 3.4 million viewers. The shows are the top two most watched sitcom debuts on cable in 2013. The Game debuted in 2011 to 7.7 million viewers, a cable record for a sitcom.]

MCN: BET’s two shows are among just a handful of scripted series with heavily African-American casts. Are you continually surprised by the limited amount of African-American images in the media given the continued increase in the multicultural population?

DL: I am surprised. We are seeing more networks trying to do African-American-targeted programming, so that’s a refl ection that more and more people are getting that the demographics of this country are changing, but it is surprising that it’s still odd to see an African-American cast member on TV.

When you look at how people are raving about Scandal with Kerri Washington because they still don’t see [African-American actors in lead roles on broadcast shows]. But we are seeing more networks trying to do some sort of African-American targeted programming. If networks were smart they would do that.

MCN: When those networks do focus on African- American-targeted programming, it seems to be focused mostly on African-American women, given that they watch more television than any group. When deciding to green-light a show is that the primary audience that BET looks to target as well?

DL: We want to get both male and female viewers. It’s true that 60% of our audience is female, so they’re the easier group to target. When we have male-targeted programming, we have to spend more on marketing, and it’s harder to attract males. I do think Real Husbands of Hollywood and TheSecond Generation Wayans will attract both males and females.

MCN: How important is it for BET to provide coverage of President Obama’s inauguration ceremonies, given that the network is primarily entertainment- based?

DL: I think it’s very important because this is as historic as his first election. Our audience takes such pride in this president and his family, so they want to see who’s going to perform, who’s going to read the poetry, who’s going to give the invocation — it’s shaping up to be a fascinating inauguration. I think the black community is saying this is the four years where he can try to accomplish as much as he wants, so I think people are really cheering for him and they’re looking forward to the next four years. BET played a big role in getting him re-elected … we’re proud of that, and we want to be there to help cover the whole [inauguration].