A Second Act For BET's News Hound

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TV-news personality Ed Gordon will return to Black
Entertainment Television next month, after an absence of nearly a decade, to
host a quarterly interview show and a weekly Sunday-morning news show. Multicultural News editor R. Thomas
Umstead talked to Gordon about his return to the African-American targeted
network as well as the changing face of television news.

Multicultural News:
How does it feel to be back at BET?

Ed Gordon: It's
funny ... I have not been there in some time, but people have always thought of
me as a BET family member. Years after I'd gone on to do other things, I would
see people in the street and they would say, 'Hey, Mr. BET,' or often say `I
just saw you on BET last Sunday,' even though I hadn't been on there in a
decade. But it is like coming back home and we're excited about the
possibilities.

MCN: I know you
already have a couple of shows in development at BET -- what do you want to
accomplish in your return to the network and what kind of shows do you want to
develop for BET?

EG: There are two
shows that I will absolutely do. There will be a Sunday-morning show launching
on Oct. 3. Format-wise, it's best to compare it with what Bill Maher has been
doing on HBO in the sense that we'll start with a headline interviewer, with the
middle segment a roundtable of a diverse grouping of folks from entertainers to
politicians.

Ed Gordon

For us, particularly with the Shirley Sherrod incident and all that
we've seen over the course of this year, what's often lacking is true perspective
from all corners. So we hope that this show will provide an African-American perspective. We believe
there are a number of people, places and things out there that don't always get
talked about that need some press, and we hope to give some attention to those
people and headlines.
This show will not be solely political -- we want it to be
topical. So if it's something that America is talking about, or more
specifically Black America, in any specific week, we'll be talking about it on
that show. It could be pop culture, it could be social academic or political,
and at times it could be fun and frivolous. We'll always do something of import
that week, but it's not going to be a Sunday morning wonk show in and of
itself.
Then there will be quarterly one-on-one specials much like
the ones that I used to do at BET. Historically, these have been huge specials for me, so we're
real excited to get back into that game.
The title will remain the same as it
was before, Conversations With Ed Gordon,
so we hope to duplicate the success that we had before.
Our first guest will be Steve Harvey -- Steve has had a fantastic couple of
years, obviously, with the success of his radio program and the success of his No.
1 best seller (Act Like A Lady, Think Like A Man) that he's had. Now, he's going to be the host of the syndicated
game show Family Feud, so he's had a
fantastic run over the last couple of years. Steve is an interesting and
dynamic character, so he's going to be the kickoff subject for a number of
specials that we'll do starting Sept. 26.

MCN: Do you think
that you can appeal to a large and broad audience -- particularly among African-American
viewers -- with more topical and informative news content?

EG: I do believe
that we'll have an audience every week, because typically America is talking
about something every week. I don't want to be only talking about Beyonce or Drake or Jay-Z -- we will talk about those stories
as well, but it won't be to the detriment of some of the important things that
don't get covered by mainstream media that are of
import to Black America. My tagline for the show is `If you're talking about
it, we're talking about it,' and that could be anything. My hope is that we
will sustain an audience in that way.

MCN: Has the overall
cable news business changed in the decade or so between your stints at BET?

EG: Absolutely.
The media has changed -- Tom, you've seen it, I've seen it -- even from five
years ago, it is a completely different industry than what we were used to. For
someone who has been in the business as long as I have, you have to tell
yourself that what I knew coming in is no longer what it is. With the advent of
the Internet becoming a major source for many for news; with tweeting, Facebook
and all of those things, it's become completely different. Certainly, with the
24-hour news cycle, we've seen the diminished power of the nightly newscast
because you don't have to wait until 6:30 to get your news.
I think we've also seen tremendous change in just what news is. I remember when I started, Lindsay Lohan would not lead a
newscast or certainly get the minutes that she has gotten; Kim Kardashian would
not be in mainstream news no matter what happened. Today, pop-culture news has become as big as what we
call hard news, and sits on the same shelf.
You have to understand that the audience has an appetite for
that whether you like it or not.  I just want to make
sure we prioritize everything correctly to know that a jobs bill
really is more important than what Lil Wayne does on a day-to-day basis while
he's in jail. But people still want to know what Lil Wayne does, so that
becomes news and it's covered. Many stations were live with Lindsay Lohan going to a courtroom- 15 years ago [a station] doesn't go live there because it's not news.

MCN: Will social
media play a major part of your shows on BET?

EG: Absolutely.
You cannot have a program and be in media without those components. There's an
entire generation that knows very little about the world without that and
frankly, I have friends in their 40s and that's all they do. So it's become a
huge part of the media today, so there will be a strong component for both
shows in relation to that.

MCN: Will you develop
other projects for BET?

EG: We're
certainly going to do specials throughout the year. One of the things that I
talked about in coming back to BET is managing expectations. I think in the past,
BET took some hits because people were expecting a certain kind of news
coverage -- they wanted to see the "black CNN." But that kind of newsgathering
takes a tremendous amount of money and staff.

Our corner is going to be more perspective -- looking for
topics of import to black Americans that haven't found their way on the radar
screen of mainstream media. Our corner will be the voice of African-Americans
-- if you have a subject and want to hear what "black America" is thinking,
you're going to want to go to our weekly show or the specials that I'm hosting.
That is my goal here.


MCN: Of the
interviews that you've done over the years, is there one that particularly
stands out for you?

EG: Everybody
assumes it's the O.J. Simpson interview for me, because that obviously
catapulted me to heights that most people don't get to travel in, and that was
a surreal experience. But for me, it was really the first time I sat
down with Nelson Mandela. I am not awe-struck
easily, but traveling to South Africa and sitting down less than a month after
his release [from prison] in his home was, for me, without question [most
memorable]. I'm not a mystical person, but if ever there's a point where you
feel this person is a little different, I felt it that day.

MCN: If you had a
choice of anyone to interview today, who would it be?

EG: It depends.
Any given week, it's someone different in the headlines, so I always like to be
topical and try to be one of the first to get people who are out there and who
everybody wants to hear from. When  I was at BET we were in the mix, and often
beat the big boys to the interviews. If I can just get back into that mix
I'm good to go. 

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