Monday, 13 March 2017

Let's Talk About Viacom's "Flagship Six" : BET

BET was the perfect example of how underfunded a cable network could be, with its amateur broadcast graphics taking up one-third of the screen. Since the cancellation of 106 & Park, BET's programming has been on a downhill slope. Beyond tent-pole events, original scripted fare, news specials, town-hall meetings, gospel music, and documentary programming that make better use of a low-budget than any cookie-cutter reality show, the bulk of the network's programming is still 2000s syndicated fare and DVD movies. That's fine if you live in the United States, but you can't even watch most of BET's acquired slate in Canada due to "programming rights".

I use quotes because no other network in Canada airs the acquired shows and movies seen on BET. No Wayans Bros (anymore). No Martin. No Tyler Perry movies or any other "blackbuster". How can BET not have clearance to air any of their programming, when no other Canadian broadcaster gives two shits about the needs of Black Canadians? Yes, we have FEVA and Afroglobal, but they're more focused on international and Caribbean programming than anything American.

I've concluded that either Canadian companies are so greedy that they are willing to keep the rights to a bunch a crap they will never air, just to make sure the imported American feeds can't air them, or Viacom seriously needs a reality check the next time they threaten to take BET out of Canada, when BET's Canadian feed is almost barebones and worthless. It figures that the year when Donald Trump took the oval office would be BET's worst yet.

But at the start of 2017, BET came running out of the gate and packing heat, with high-quality scripted programming in tow. The New Edition Story has been met with critical acclaim and was the highest-rated program for the three nights it aired. I, myself, really enjoyed the second and third parts! So far, the Quad has also been met with positive reviews and the ratings look healthy enough. It helps that BET managed to make a fourth season of the equally-praised Being Mary Jane happen despite some production trouble.

Up next, BET will debut Rebel, a gritty police drama with a very "anti-police" vibe; Benched, a six-episode legal dramedy; Comedy Get-down, a mockmentary comedy featuring George Lopez, DL Hughley, Cedric the Entertainer, Eddie Griffin and Charlie Murphy that will hopefully be better than recent seasons of Real Husbands of Hollywood; and Tales, an ambitious new anthology series inspired by hip-hop songs.

You can count on BET announcing another go around of unscripted programming at this year's upfronts. Whether Music Moguls or The Gary Owen Show will return for another go around is up in the air. I rather those shows be given a second chance than Ink, Scissors, Paper or F in Fabulous; take that garbage back to the ghetto where it belongs. Black America could not be facing darker times and the last thing they need to see on the most prominent network targeting them are shows so trashy WorldStarHipHip fans wouldn't touch them with a pole.

Just stick to the Tyler Perry reruns, at least those shows are watchable.

It doesn't even matter, the scripted programming alone promises a year that will see BET return to higher-prominence. I've said it before and I'll say it again, BET is more of a brand, a voice, than a cable network. But so far this year, they've actually looked and felt like a cable network. BET's new broadcast package really helps in this regard; It's simple, clean, and far less obtrusive than their old look.

In an era where the United States is more divided than ever, Black America needs a voice. Let's hope that as one of Viacom's flagship six, BET can truly own that voice in the linear world.

Yes to Black. Yes to Us. Yes to a BETer cable network.

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