BET has captured younger demos with its music programming and now the African-American centered network is aiming to get the whole family engaged in its programming. Charlie Jordan Brookins, VP, programming operations, discussed the fall slate and the aim to capture a multigenerational audience with realscreen.
BET’s fall slate is full of reality and docudrama; why do BET audiences love this type of programming?
BET audiences respond to real people [but] we like celebrity too. We like authentic portrayals of people who look like us and sound like us and our fall line definitely reflects that.
Up first is Firefighters in Compton [narrated by Tyrese]. They are the unsung heroes and it gives [us] a chance to get inside of what happens in the lives of these firefighters. Monica: Still Standing [about '90s R&B singer Monica] is not only about a celebrity but also a young mother raising her kid and trying to make a comeback, so we respond to someone trying to rise up again and reach their dream.
The Heart of the City docuseries is just that; it takes you into the heart of urban cities. Last year we did one on Chicago and its homicide problem. We’re doing one in Detroit on the education issue and we’ll be doing one in D.C. The main thing is to find urban areas in cities that have a high population of African-Americans and deal with real issues, bringing to life some of the things we don’t see on CNN and that we don’t see on the nightly news but that do impact our community.
What is BET’s programming strategy?
I think our strategy is to create BET appointment television. We know that we can’t please everybody, so instead of being everything to everybody, we want to be more things to more people, so we’re really trying to reach out. We’re trying to broaden that young demo by having programming that attracts a multigenerational audience so that parents, teens, children and grandparents can watch television together. [The strategy is about] programming that entertains, but that also shines a light in our community and that celebrates family. Really, our ultimate goal is to make the B in BET [stand for] ‘best entertainment television.’
Viewership has increased in the summer. What are you doing to keep viewers tuned in?
One reason we believe our viewership is up is because we are, again, presenting programming that audiences are really responding to. We had a new show debut at the end of June called Tiny and Toya. They are women who were attached to significant men in the hip hop industry [rappers T.I. and Lil Wayne, respectively] but the reality is that these are two women, raising their kids, trying to make a difference in their own lives and the lives of their children. I think that’s why audiences responded to it, because they thought that they were going to get something that was behind the blogs and more information about the guys, but what they got was a woman who is struggling with her father having Alzheimer’s and even though her boyfriend is in jail, she has dreams to pursue singing. And Toya, on the other hand, her mother has a drug problem and she is trying to keep her family together while making a name for herself, writing a book and doing things to improve herself. I think people really responded to those real stories.
What should producers know going in to pitch to you?
I would say that we’re not looking for the black version of [fill in the blank]. We’re looking for shows that uniquely speak to our audiences. A lot of times we’re looking for producer’s passion projects, projects they may have put away because nobody would pick them up. Ultimately, BET is being positioned as a major player in cable television so we’re just trying to define our programming as what puts BET on the map and connects to the audience.