We’ve all heard the common argument that TV, BET in particular, is poisonous and only targets the weak and vulnerable minded with shows that offer little to no substance. BET, VH1, MTV—all owned by Viacom networks, who I admittedly too have been critical of in the past and present that offer little to this argument and have continued to pump out overly hedonistic and shallow programs at best.
However, BET in particular is a network that, instead of offering its viewing public the substance they need, rather provides them with the style they want. For the fear of sounding like a grumpy old man yelling at kids to get off his yard, I took a step back from my criticism and accepted the fact that BET is what it is: Black Entertainment Television. No longer would I demonize them for glamorizing the highest levels of ignorance via rappers, caricatures, or entertainers but rather I would concede the fact that they are in the sole business of selling entertainment to a loyal audience.
Amidst my starving TV intellectual stupor, I was pleasantly surprised to hear that the young brother from CNN was coming to BET for a new late night talk show named Don’t Sleep with T.J. Holmes. Finally! A show that would be dedicated to what mattered to Black people from Black people, even if he is light skinned, it didn’t matter! This is it! We finally made it! A young self-respecting, in-the-know and well-connected Black man would have a platform to speak on issues that no one else in the media would dare cover and we finally got it! T.J. Holmes opened up the season on fire, drawing over 400,000 viewers on his October 1st debut and over 1 million viewers on October 9th. However, since then, a mere 53 days later, that number has slipped to as low as 203,000 viewers a night. With this lack of viewership, the decision has been made by BET executives to condense the 5 nights a week half-hour program into a 1 night a week hourly program beginning this Wednesday at 11pm.
According to BET’s CEO Debra Lee, “Our audience always says they want this kind of programming, but they don’t show up.” Now I’m no television advertising guru and I don’t have a day’s worth of experience in programming so I will not judge their decision based on numbers, however, it is truly sad that the universal nucleus for all things Black in our country is once again succumbing to inadequate ratings and blaming it on their audience’s lack of interest. What type of audience was BET looking to grab here, what number justifies that a show can stay on air for five days a week as opposed to only one hour a week? And what guarantees that the audience will care to tune in on just one night a week now?
It’s time for a change and whether the blame goes to the recent low number of viewers or the network for pulling back on the show too quickly, something has to give! If by these numbers BET is saying that a large percentage of Black people do not watch the news then fine, segments of every population don’t watch the news—but if we are to outright marginalize those who do enjoy learning about their politics, health, stereotypes, incarceration rates, taboos, history and present, etc. whom else can we blame than us for our youth having no morals as we are so quick to point out? If we are going to deny those very young demographics whom they specifically market to with a fervent regularity, then we have absolutely nothing to say regarding how those young people turn out because BET and its viewers have agreed that Keyshia Cole and “Boobie” Gibson are far more important than finding out whether we are covered under President Obama’s Healthcare Reform. Our TV ratings are just as powerful as our vote was last week and with that power, we have affected change in the White House and sadly now on BET, however, this change I can’t believe in.