THE FUNK OF BLACK TELEVISION

THE FUNK OF BLACK TELEVISION

Earvin “Magic” Johnson and Sean “P-Diddy” Combs have entered in to the world of television.  My initial reaction was “Great”, but we’ve been here before.  Don’t get me wrong I’m happy, ecstatic, overjoyed that two of our most successful moguls in entertainment are about to grow their existing respective empires – good for them.  However, we’ve had such a poor showing on a very short list of accomplishments thus far with Black Television.

Allow me to preface before I proceed with my perspective by saying TV is about the color green.  Black Television is an expression used to unequivocally define subject matter, actors & actresses and crew consist of Black people.  Back in the day, Robert Johnson launched Black Entertainment Television, aka BET.  After years of building the brand, like most venture capitalists, he sold it.  He sold it to Viacom, the people that own MTV & VH1, which in a way seemed to make sense from a programming perspective.  The format of the channel was already kind of similar, but distinctively different because it catered to a different audience.  As expected, Viacom made BET essentially a black MTV, which from a cultural standpoint has more cons than pros.  What do I mean?  MTV has for a long time exploited and misguided the gullible youth of America with gross dynamics of hegemony and false preceptions of life through their “Reality” shows.  Once Viacom acquired BET, they changed the channel, shaping it in the same image as their other channels.  The LAST thing black youth needs, is to be misguided to think they’d be afforded as easily what white youth are privileged to have on MTV.  While there may not have been any Emmy Award winning programming on BET prior to Viacom’s purchase, they at least made valient efforts to provide substantial quality programming for our people.  Although “Gospel Sundays” is still on the channel, the days of shows like “BET News”, “Teen Summit”, “The Tavis Smiley Show” and “For the Record” that featured members of the congressional black caucus, are long gone.  There’s no programs on any of Viacom’s properties that lends to our youth, or man for that matter, creating value – just money.  The actuality of what creating value is has been misconstrued by doing whatever it takes to make money.  Viacom is by no means alone in depicting this falsehood, not by a long shot, but they’re unquestionably major players.  At least the majority of the staff of BET are black folks.  I mean just based on the name of the network, doesn’t it just make sense?  So much for BET…  Radio One was started by Cathy Hughes.  It grew into a force representing Black radio across the country.  So much so, that Hughes and her son Alfred Liggins were called upon to do interviews, for a special news report regarding payola.  Mother and son had no shame in their game, professing how they followed suit of other venture capitalist to be able to compete with the likes of demonic counter parts in order to get PAID!  So much so that they started TV One…  Now we have more black television… or do we?  Recently a long time colleague shared with me, that during the production of an “UnSung” episode that features the late Vesta Williams, the producer didn’t know who Vivica Fox was.  Now, unless you’ve literally lived under a rock for the past 10 years, it’s impossible to be black and not know who Vivica A. Fox is.  That said, I knew immediately that the point my colleague was making was that the producer was of the dominant ruling class.  However, how can you work in entertainment and not be at the very least familiar with Vivica?  This said to me that TV One has people in their organization that are only about the bottom line.  I get it, radio and TV are all about advertising, making money, this has been it from its inception.  At the same time, because black people were denied so many things for so long, we took a great deal of pride in whatever we accomplished.  We made our strides and successes an aspect of our developing and evolving culture because for far too long we were told and looked at as only being partially human.  Actually getting something done significant in society, media or doing something newsworthy, was taken very seriously and as an expression of the accomplishments of our people.  To have people working within an entity dedicated to entertaining black people that are devoid and detatched of the black people who are prominant and/ or have made significant contributions, is disrespectful.  It’s disrespectful to the entertainers that are constantly making in-roads and laying a path for future entertainers and it’s an expression of a lack of self-respect.  There are hundreds of black people that are ready, willing, able and most importantly qualified to execute the task of producing the show “UnSung” – so why aren’t they working?  Those who are fortunate to acquire a certain level of success that puts them in a unique position to grow the number of black people working in media apparently forget to reach back or worse simply don’t care.  I’m not EVEN saying that people of color who get to a certain status in entertainment and media should be saviors, but they should at least give a damn.  So much for TV One…  Our latest venture in Black Television was never black at all.  “Sometimes you have to be blacker than others” is one of my all time favorite quotes.  Professed by Oprah Winfrey, this state of mind obviously doesn’t apply when it comes to employing and/ or uplifting aspects of the Black Diaspora.  This was evident throughout the history of the “Oprah Winfrey Show” and continues in the building of the OWN Network.  While there are shows on OWN that depict the black experience, they’re certainly not in the forefront of marketing for the channel, simply because I don’t know what they are.  As put off at that truth as I may be, at least Winfrey didn’t build a following on the fact that she’s black or catering to black people, like Radio One and BET.

That being said, what can we expect from new channels helmed by Magic and Diddy?  We’ll have to wait and see, but now that you know, start the campaign!  Speak to them in your dialogue with friends and family; in your “Wall Posts” on your FB page and theirs.  According to Washinton AND Huffington Post reports, when Comcast began its journey to a majority stake in NBCUniversal 2.0, they made “voluntary public interest commitments” to launch 10 minority-owned independent networks over eight years.  I remember this announcement – Four of the networks would be majority-owned by African Americans, two would be majority-owned by Latino Americans, two would be operated by Latino American programmers and the final two would provide something called additional “independent programming.”. Each network would be added to select Comcast systems as part of its basic tier of digital service.  This past Tuesday, Comcast announced that it had selected four lucky winners from more than 100 submissions.  Among them are Sean P. Diddy Combs; Earvin Magic Johnson; Robert Rodriguez; and Said Schwarz.  Combs’ network “Revolt”, is said to be “designed to have programming inspired by music and pop culture, including music videos, live performance, music news and interviews.”  The network will “incorporate social media interaction for music artists and fans,” Comcast said.  Diddy is partnering with MTV veteran Andy Schuon. Magic’s network, is being called the Oprah of Aspire — a channel that will deliver “enlightening, entertaining and positive programming to African American families,” including movies, documentaries, short films, music, comedy, visual and performing arts, and “faith and inspirational programs,” says Comcast. Johnson is partnering with GMC TV (formerly Gospel Music TV), which is run by its founder, Charles Humbard — former Discovery networks executive and son of televised evangelism pioneer Rex Humbard.

Prior to Don Cornelius’ death, a group of black entrepreneurs teamed up to revive Don’s creation and re-create the brand.  A show that lasted nearly four decades, it’s an American institution, even though there hasn’t been a new episode in six years.  Soul Train Holdings LLC, which was created by Johnson when he bought the “Soul Train” library and brand last year, plans on doing a “Soul Train” variety show back for television, CEO Kenard Gibbs told The Associated Press.  There have also been discussions with writers about taking the brand to Broadway, Gibbs said, and there’s also talk about film opportunities; potential book deals; and the first “Soul Train” cruise.  During a memorial for Cornelius in Los Angeles last week, Johnson assured Cornelius’ son Tony, “The brand that your father has created will last a lifetime.”  Black Entertainment Network LLC, BET, and Centric TV – a BET Network – also has rights to the Soul Train brand and name, and have revamped the Soul Train Awards, which have aired on BET since 2009.  The awards show has been the network’s second highest-rated special, said Paxton Baker, Centric executive Vice-President and General Manager.  Baker said the show has held its own and plans are under way for a tribute to Cornelius for this year’s show, planned for broadcast on November 25th, keeping its Sunday-after-Thanksgiving air date tradition, on BET and Centric.

The question is how and/ or will the images they allow to air on the channel create value for black people.  While some may think this is not important, it’s all that really matters.  The question is that now that there are two more black people in a position to make a difference, will they make sure more black capable people are employed, so that we as a people can further elevate our existence?

 

For the Funk of TV
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