Reality series premieres dominated BET Networks' Upfront showcase last April, in line with the release of the company's landmark research over what African-Americans really think about their culture and media habits. Towards the end, the mothership BET channel disclosed a potentially transformative scripted tidbit: producing new episodes of The Game, a year after its cancellation by The CW.
Now a year later...but let's not get too far ahead of the situation:
Venue: BET's return trip to the Best Buy (formerly Nokia) Theater near Times Square looked like the set of one of its popular award specials. Big screen at center stage; glass podium for presenters stage left and doorway for stars to enter stage right. The lobby had a carnival atmosphere, with huge video-wall and a photo booth for attendees available all night long. A superior at Best Buy got the memo to cut out the extreme mini-bite madness marring TruTV's pre-show reception the week before. Result: plentiful supply of sushi, cheese slices and shrimp on hand. Grade: A-minus
Presentation: What do you do when The Game becomes your mothership channel's all-time series blockbuster (7.7 million viewers debut night alone)? Milk it from the start without going overboard. "Simply put, it's a brand new game," BET CEO Debra Lee declared, with "It's A Brand New Game" displayed in bold letters on the screen. "More scripted shows, more incredible performances." Her key executive colleagues--ad sales president Louis Carr followed by programming executives Stephen Hill and Lakesha Jones--made sure references to The Game were in their presentation contributions. On her watch, Jones introduced key cast members of The Game, Let's Stay Together and new sitcom entry Reed Between The Lines. Turning to why BET's lineup of specials draw solid audiences on a regular basis, "no one got up and picked up their remote," Carr injected. "They picked up the cell phones and called their friends to watch." Lively performances from rapper Doug E. Fresh and singer Marsha Ambrosius (in Alicia Keys-mold) scored. And through it all, not one mention of reality programs. Grade: A
News Value: The Game and Let's Stay Together coming back for another BET was known goods, having been announced at an early-April event in Los Angeles. The new elements: Reed Between The Lines with Malcolm Jamal-Warner and Tracee Ellis Ross launching this fall, and BET in the hunt for its first original drama to start sometime in 2012. In-house, the network has several projects under review, including one from New York Undercover producer Reggie Rock Blythewood. Other contenders: a quartet of video-on-demand/Web series premiering this fall. Pilots for three of these four series--Lenox Avenue, Odessaand Asylum--debuted at the New York Television Festival in 2009 and 2010. The Come Up is the other VOD/Web entry. Meantime, is BET and sister network Centric giving reality the kiss-off? No clues at this event. Grade: A-minus
Host: When, o when, will someone give Louis Carr his own TV series? He's got great presence, always in fine voice and always cuts to the chase with his audience. Example when highlighting Let's Stay Together: "When was the last time you saw a romantic comedy with black people?" Wish someone would see something on-screen in his future. Nice contributions from Hill, Davis and Centric general manager Paxton Baker. Grade: A
Overall Grade: A-minus BET made sure The Game got its moments in the sun, with enough light shed on its other key 2010-11 programming initiatives. For now and near future, scripted rules this kingdom. More observations from the passing parade: *BET is exploring yet another way to go drama--participation in New Voices, the consortium of TV networks, programmers and production companies organized by Humanitas. Each consortium member (seven currently) agrees to develop two series scripts from emerging writers, each writer paired with a notable TV writer/producer. BET parent Viacom is one of the more notable programmers not yet involved in this venture.
*Big coup by Lifetime to have actress Demi Moore develop two drama series and executive produce a weekly primetime talk series. Not too late this upfront season for Lifetime to take advantage of that news, and boost its profile, with a public advertiser and/or press event.
*You could say the new "I-plus" venture out of NCC Media is multi-channel detente. By the end of the year, cable operators, DirecTV, Dish Network, FiOS TV and U-verse will see to it that local advertisers can buy local avails on up to 50 networks in 45-50 markets with one transaction. This is what you call all parties working for the greater good, instead of the unworkable mess. This also can be prelude to cooperative work in other areas, from on-demand and interactive advertising to 3D content development. Let's see.
*Nice interaction of opinions between Bernstein Research senior analyst Craig Moffett and Diffusion Group senior partner Colin Dixon at a SeaChange-sponsored conference April 27 in NY. Dixon is a huge a la carte advocate, and while you respect his opinion, someone should inform him that a la carte, if ever adopted, would destroy the TV programming, advertising, technology and customer service infrastructure as we know it.
Until the next time, stay well and stay tuned! Simon Applebaum is host/producer of Tomorrow Will Be Televised, the Internet radio/podcast-distributed program about the TV scene. Tomorrow runs live Mondays/Fridays at 3 p.m. Eastern time, noon Pacific time, over www.blogtalkradio.com, with replays available 24/7 at www.blogtalkradio.com/simonapple04. Podcasts are downloadable from ITunes.com and other Web sites arranged by Sonibyte (www.sonibyte.com). Have a question or reaction? E-mail it to email@example.com.
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