Black Entertainment Television, TBS and TV One this fall will jump into the competitive programming arenas of late night and Sunday morning with new original series hosted by persons of color.
Late-night variety/talk series The Mo’Nique Show on BET and Lopez Tonight (starring comedian George Lopez) on TBS, as well as TV One’s Sunday-morning public-affairs series Washington Watch With Roland Martin, hope to reach a young, diverse audience that they feel is not being served by major competitors on the broadcast networks.
BET’s The Mo’Nique Show, which launches Oct. 5 and stars the popular African-American comedian, and The Lopez Show, which debuts Nov. 9 and is hosted by Latino comedian George Lopez, will join a short list of multicultural-themed late-night shows on cable that include HBO’s The Chris Rock Show, FX’s short-lived The Orlando Jones Show and, more recently, TV One’s Baisden After Dark with Michael Baisden.
Eric Deggans, television critic for the St. Petersburg Times, said both Monique and Lopez have the potential to bring a different look and feel to the genre.
“The broadcast networks are filled with white, male mostly middle-aged latenight hosts, so cable smartly recognized that there is an opening to try something different for an audience that is not served by those shows,” he said. “I think it’s notable that these channels think there is enough business within those audience niches to create shows to capture those viewers.”
Michael Wright, executive vice president, head of programming for TNT, TBS and Turner Classic Movies told Multichannel News said that Lopez Tonight will have far more interaction with the audience than traditional late-night shows and that it will resemble a “block party” with skits, music and special guests not normally seen elsewhere in the daypart, although the network would not disclose a projected guest list.
“A lot of the current late-night looks the same, but when you watch [Lopez Tonight] you realize that the host doesn’t look the same, the audience doesn’t look the same and the sets don’t look the same [as traditional late-night shows],” he said. “It’s a genre and a forum that viewers love, but yet Lopez Tonight is done differently.”
BET also believes The Mo’Nique Show will bring a unique cultural perspective to the late night wars. The series will also exude a party atmosphere featuring an eclectic and diverse mix of celebrities and music, according to the network.
“The Mo’Nique Show will give us an opportunity to touch our audience on a daily basis with a celebrity that they love,” said BET president of programming Loretha Jones.
But Deggans warns that the shows have to be distinctive enough from the mainstream talks shows to appeal to a cross-section of viewers.
“The shows just can’t be hosted by someone who looks different … the sensibility of the show has to be different and has to speak to people who don’t feel served by the mainstream choices.” he said. “Shows like [HBO’s] The Chris Rock Show, and [the syndicated] Arsenio Hall Show were shows that succeeded in offering creative voices first and featured charismatic characters that managed to reflect black culture but that were also very appealing to people who weren’t black.”
TV One hopes to bring a diverse voice to Sunday mornings as well with its new show Washington Watch With Roland Martin, which will compete with established news/public affairs shows like NBC’s Meet the Press, CBS’s Face the Nation, ABC’s This Week With George Stephanopoulos and Fox’s Fox News Sunday.
While Washington Watch will feature interviews with members of Congress on current public policy issues, Martin said he wants to include voices outside the Beltway in the discussion of issues that affect everyday people.
“Our idea is to really do a different type of show,” Martin said.
With the discussion of race prominently intertwined within today’s political landscape, Christopher H. Smith, professor at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California, believes Washington Watch could serve as an important outlet in providing diverse opinions on important political topics.
“For a very long time, black audiences have lamented the fact that there hasn’t been enough news pertaining to our unique perspective,” he said. “This is a litmus test for the ongoing political maturation of the black audience.”