BET’s President Stephen Hill: “We’re Not Who We Were Years Ago!”
Stephen G. Hill is Black Entertainment Television’s President of Music Programming & Specials. Since joining the network in 1999, Hill has been directly responsible for launching the careers of both music artists like B2K, Bow Wow and anybody else who ever appeared on the “Scream Tour;” as well as personalities like Terrence J, Free, Rocsi Diaz and A.J. Calloway.
A music enthusiast with an eye for talent, the Washington, DC native named newcomers Kendrick Lamar and Leah LaBelle as his “ones to watch” during a recent conversation with AlwaysAList.com. Additionally, Hill is equally as enthusiastic about the resurgence of veteran acts like New Edition, SWV and Boyz II Men, groups that he said: “have consistently maintained their stage show and vocal chops throughout the years and are fun to watch.”
Despite overseeing development and production of all music programming and specials at BET Networks including “106 & Park,” “BET Honors,” “Black Girls Rock!,” and the “BET Awards;” Hill expanded beyond music earlier this year when he launched the political news and current event series, “Don’t Sleep” hosted by former CNN anchor T.J. Holmes.
News that “Don’t Sleep” would go from four days a week to a weekly series—though it will be expanded to one hour—alarmed fans who immediately believed the show was headed towards cancelation.
BET’s public relations team serviced a press release with a positive spin on the show’s changes with quotes from Hill and Holmes. Despite their optimistic approach, AlwaysAList.com wanted to talk in depth with Hill about “Don’t Sleep” and the overall perception of BET.[divider]
A lot people feel as though this new change to “Don’t Sleep” is the first step before cancelation. What do you have to say about that?
You can check your Twitter hashtag for #BETDontSleep. The number of people who have asked for this show to be one hour is incredible. That is absolutely for real. Because of other commitments, we couldn’t do an hour nightly. We also weren’t getting as deep into issues as we wanted to in a half of an hour. If it was going to be canceled, the show would have just been canceled. What we really want to do is make a great weekly show that digs a bit deeper and respects our audience’s intelligence by getting into subjects with real meaning in a meaningful way. Having an hour weekly is the way we’re hoping to get that done.
Do you feel you all can be timely an affectively cover news stories on a Wednesday night?
Sure! Why wouldn’t it be? There are a lot of shows that happen to happen on Sunday where they take all of the events that happen from Monday to Sunday. We realize we have from Wednesday to Wednesday to cover what we’re going to cover on a Wednesday night. That’s exactly what the Sunday shows are about. We kind of wanted to put ours more in prime time. We may have a re-air on Sunday. We wanted to put this in the middle of the week where some things are formulating or we can predict what may happen by the end of the week. Wednesday is not a place you put something to hide it.
Where in the world did you all find all of those Black conservative Republican and Tea Party guests you have on? Who knew there were that many of them?
I think the Republican Party over the next two years, and definitely over the next four years, they have to realize that their world is our world and it’s multicultural. We also wanted to show our audience that you may think that everything is just like you, but there’s some very, very smart knowledgeable folks who have a different way of thinking. We want to give them as much respect as anybody else. Our talent team was great in finding people who represented all the surface of the sphere.
BET’s CEO, Debra Lee has gone on the record and said the ratings for “Don’t Sleep” were disappointing. People have been griping about BET not offering this type of programming for a long time and now that you have a show like this, they’re not watching. Is it time for the viewers to put up and tune in or shut up altogether?
I certainly hope people will watch. By having this on once a week, hopefully it will be appointment television and that is part of the strategy. It will really encourage people to come see it once a week and see it in its weekly time slot.
There’s a group of people that still complain about BET’s programming. Sheila Johnson made headlines recently for it again. Now that BET plays very few music videos, has a show like “Don’t Sleep,” has expanded into scripted programs and has a variety of other shows, does the criticism annoy you at this point?
[pullquote_right]If this becomes a success, we get to make more like it.[/pullquote_right]If they’re still complaining about it and they watch “Don’t Sleep,” then I would love to have a conversation with them about it. I’ve seen this online and a few places where people have said: ‘why are they trying it with ‘Don’t Sleep?’ I don’t watch BET anymore because of what they used to do five years ago, so I won’t watch ‘Don’t Sleep.” I got to admit, I’m trying to find the logic in that. If the point is that you want programming like we’re doing with ‘Don’t Sleep,’ I would think you would want to support it as opposed to keeping a five-year grudge going. There’s a lot of stuff like “Reed Between the Lines,” “The Game” and the news documentary specials—we’re not who we were years ago! ‘Don’t Sleep’ is just the most current example of it and we really hope you’ll support it. Everybody wants to be successful and we’ve got to take an inventory of what is successful and what’s not a success. If this becomes a success, we get to make more like it.
I received a Twitter question from Diane Chapman @dynamicdst and its one that I’ve also asked before! Why don’t you all make artists perform the clean version of songs at your award shows so that the viewing audience doesn’t have to hear extended bleeping?
I’m going to answer this completely honestly! In rehearsals we tell artists and go through this whole thing with artists. We tell them to make sure they do the clean version because you’re going to hear the bleeps. We’ve had a couple of years where the people have heard the bleeps and they know what its like, but when those lights come on and they see those people and the adrenalin hits, sometimes they do the clean version and sometimes people don’t. We always try to work with them to make sure that they do.
What’s your favorite performance of all time from all of the years of doing the BET Awards?
Jennifer and Jennifer! When Jennifer Holliday and Jennifer Hudson came out and sang “And I Am Telling You,” it was just everything we want the show to be. It was inter-generation, it was real singing with real music behind it, it was a surprise, and it was people coming together when people thought they had beef. They just tore it down!
“Don’t Sleep” begins airing in its new time slot on Wednesday nights at 11pm ET/10pm C tonight on BET.