In her first major move since taking over as CEO, Black Entertainment Television’s Debra Lee last week tapped movie producer/director Reginald Hudlin to take the newly created position of network entertainment president.
Hudlin is charged with developing original programming for the African-American targeted network, which has mostly relied on acquired fare and music video programming to attract viewers.
Hudlin, who along with his brother Warrington produced such films as House Party, Boomerang and The Great White Hype, said he’s planning to develop several new original shows by the time next year’s upfront season rolls around, including potential animated and scripted fare.
“We think we can attract a broad demographic by looking to create programming within different genres,” he said. “I’m interested in doing things that BET hasn’t done that will not only satisfy our core viewers, but expand our audience as well.”
Lee, who took over BET’s CEO slot last month from retiring founder Robert Johnson, said Hudlin’s creative talent as well as his Hollywood connections will help BET realize its original programming goals. The network has developed several reality shows recently such as College Hill and Blowing Up!— Fatty Koo, but has yet to forge into the scripted-series genre.
“This signals to the world that we’re looking toward the future and we’re serious about doing original programming,” she said. “[Hudlin] has the respect of the Hollywood community and understands BET. He will bring new creativity to the network.”
Hudlin is the second African-American film producer to head up original programming efforts for a cable network: Robert Townsend serves as president of original productions for Atlanta-based Black Family Channel.
Hudlin said the shift from producing content for the big screen to developing projects for TV won’t be a difficult one.
“There’s a paradigm shift happening in entertainment, with theatrical home video and cable, as well as wireless all now converging,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense for anyone to think in a very narrow fashion of just doing one thing.”
Hudlin inherits a network that’s holding its own on the ratings front. The 2005 BET Awards on June 28 drew a network record 6.6 million viewers en route to a 5.0 household rating, according to Nielsen Media Research figures. In the second quarter, BET averaged a 0.6 household rating in primetime, up 20% from the prior-year period, and a 33% rise to a 0.4 in total programming day.