Hip-Hop Roster Takes Shape

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Former Viacom Inc. and Fox Family Channel executive Tracy Lawrence and hip-hop impresario Russell Simmons are evidently teaming up to develop an urban-targeted hip hop service to launch sometime in 2003.

The network, tentatively titled Fabulous TV, is eyeing a mix of acquired and original entertainment-based programming, urban music and fashion fare, according to sources close to the situation.

The service would also tap the creative services of former Motown records chairman and current NuAmerica Music CEO Andre Harrell.

Fabulous TV would bring together two executives who earlier this year had been planning separate urban-targeted services.

Lawrence, who left the network now known as ABC Family earlier this year following the sale of Fox Family to The Walt Disney Co., was initially planning to launch a service similar service to Fabulous TV. It would have targeted African-Americans, but would have been multicultural in nature, she said at the time.

Simmons, the founder of Def Jam Records and currently CEO of hip-hop and urban apparel company Phat Farm, was expected to showcase hip-hop music videos and music-related programming through his programming venture, said sources close to the situation.

Simmons, who has worked with Home Box Office on several programming projects, including the Def Comedy Jam 1990s stand-up comedy series and the current Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry, was also in talks with Comcast Corp. to either become an investor in the channel or secure distribution.

Over the last three months, sources said, the two executives have joined to pursue a network aimed at 18- to 34-year-olds who have grown up on hip-hop culture. Neither Lawrence nor Simmons could be reached for comment on the matter.

Comcast in picture

Fabulous TV is seeking an investment or distribution deal with Comcast Corp., sources also said. Sources close to the MSO said it is interested in developing a urban-targeted service to go with its portfolio of programming-network investments, which include stakes in E! Entertainment Television, fledgling video game network G4, The Golf Channel, Outdoor Life Network and the Comcast Sports Net regional sports services in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.

Comcast spokesman Tim Fitzpatrick said the MSO "is always interested in exploring programming opportunities for our customers, but typically won't comment on speculation."

While Fabulous TV seeks to carve out a unique niche of targeting a broader, urban audience, it inevitably will be compared to current African-American targeted services Black Entertainment Television and Major Broadcasting Cable Network.

But NAMIC president Pat Andrews-Keenan believes that there's room for more than one or two networks targeting people of color.

"The African-American audience is not a monolith; there are different types of programming that appeals to different segments of the audience," she said. "If they can provide programming that has a different spin or appeals to a different demographic, then it will be positive for both viewers and the industry."

In a sign that the network may be looking to build awareness within the industry, both Simmons and Harrell are scheduled to make appearances at the NAMIC Conference this week.