Monday, August 18, 2008

Nice Concept, Poor Execution: The Sad Saga Of BET News.

So, BET took the obligatory stab at actual news programming yet again, with last week's premiere of The Truth With Jeff Johnson. If The Truth With Jeff Johnson sounds more like some Minneapolis 80's R&B/funk band to you than a legit news show, you're not alone.

Some of you wonder why I'm so hard on BET and TVOne. I hate them, because I want so badly to love them. In a year when race has never been more at the forefront, nor more poorly discussed by the MSM, it's literally painful to have to watch a historic candidacy play out nightly on CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News. They just get soooo much soooo wrong, and honestly, the only place where I hear my PoV echoed is in the blogosphere and on Syndication One. I suppose this should be sufficient enough, and if you told me I should just stop while I'm ahead, I couldn't really disagree with you.

Still, both stations are such a colossal waste. I don't have a problem with music videos (in BET's case), or bourgeois "lifestyle programming" (TVOne). These programs aren't made for me, and don't appeal to me, which is just fine. But between the hundreds of hours of programming each of these stations provided weekly, there's exactly zero content that informs. [1] Zilch. Zero. Nada. I understand their mantras of providing entertainment. Nothing wrong with that. But please, give us something more.

BET once, long ago did have news programming. In the 80's and 90's, there was the BET Nightly News that aired around, well, news time. The 6pm newscast was relatively informative, and was usually capped off by insightful commentary by Washington Post columnist Courtland Milloy. There was also A Conversation With Ed Gordon, The Bev Smith Show, Lead Story, the tween oriented Teen Summitt, and eventually BET Tonight With Tavis Smiley.

I'm not sayin' this was a 24/7 news network, but it was sufficient.

With the sellout sale of BT to Viacom in 2000 though, things began to predictably shift. BET, already running on a shoestring budget, one by one started dropping these news programs in favor of more videos and reality shows, culminating in the cancellation of an already scaled back BET News, then featuring Jacque Reid and airing at 11pm. Lately, their only "news" programming has been the informative, but poorly scheduled (and recently canned) Meet The Faith. TVOne has never even bothered trying in their brief infancy.

So, I've been bellyaching for months about why these stations can't offer any programming, and lo and behold, BET unveiled The Truth With Jeff Johnson the other night. The premise (real news) is promising, but results are ho hum at best.

The first problem is (surprise) the scheduling. Why in the ham sammich you put on a "news" program at 11pm on a Friday night is beyond me. Another big problem is the duration. Trying to cram substantive discussion into a 21 minute block is too little time. The final problem is Johnson himself.

With a very busy set, it's clear the show is trying to rip off roundtable formats like Real Time With Bill Maher. This isn't necessarily a problem, but Jeff Johnson is no Bill Maher (whom I don't really care for either). The show seems to take on three topics, which is simply too much for a program this short. Friday's debut featured Fox News' Angela McGlowan, BETJ's Keith Boykin, and some Harvard educated R&B singer whose name escapes me, but who added nothing of value to the discussion. They talked (repeatedly over each other might I add) about racial issues dogging the Presidential campaign, then quickly shifted gears (and guests) to talk about the recent deaths of Bernie Mac and Isaac Hayes.

There was a very racially mixed live studio audience that was seldom heard, but in classic Comic View fashion, seen frequently. It appeared that they were emphatically trying to show you there were white folks in the studio audience, as if to make some point about the show's universal appeal. We all know these are nothing more than professional extras using the show for their resumes. The cumulative result was a gaggle of too many voices and too many topics for a half-hour show.

In case you can't tell, I badly want this to work out for BET. But something tells me it won't, and that BET doesn't even care if it does. By throwing out a neophyte host, a lazy format, and a graveyard time slot, it's clear BET just wants to put the show on just to say they're providing some news programming to get people like me off their back. If they really wanted to show to succeed, they'd make it an hour long and throw it on at 8pm on a weeknight. It's not like there's anything else of value showing in those timeslots. What's it gonna pre-empt? Another rerun of Hell Date? More College Hill? The 900th airing of Holiday Heart? [2]

Johnson, in all honesty, isn't too bad. He clearly works for BET's key demo, and just needs more seasoning. So, I'll lay off him for now.

In short, since I'm desperate and TeeVee Sux, I'll probably add The Truth to my Tivo Season Pass anyway. But something tells me that unless there's a format change, this goose is cooked the moment the Fall season rolls around.

Good luck, Jeff. You'll need it.

Question: Do you think BET even cares if this show works out? Have you seen The Truth With Jeff Johnson? Weren't they signed to Prince's record label for awhile in the late 80's?

The Truth With Jeff Johnson Official Website []

[1] Actually, TVOne's Singletary Says isn't bad at all. And truth be told, I pickup the occasional BBQ tip from G. Garvin.

[2] ...which is a truly awful film. I kept waiting for Bokeem Woodbine to show up...

blog comments powered by Disqus

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.