Debra Lee Resigns as BET Networks Chairman/CEO

Debra Lee, BET Networks chair and CEO, has announced her resignation, effective May 28. 

Lee, who began her time with BET as its first VP and general counsel in 1986, was elevated to president and COO in 1996 and became chair and CEO in 2005. She had already handed day-to-day leadership over to BET Networks president Scott Mills in January. 

“As a young corporate attorney I saw my role as the protector of the BET brand and its employees,” Lee said of her start at BET. “And today, more than 32 years later, I still see myself as the protector and defender of a brand that I have helped to grow as a top destination for audiences across the globe. I have called BET Networks home for over three decades, and this team is part of my extended family.”

Lee said she was proud of “the legacy of values” she helped to instill at the network. “Together, we have built a world-class brand that connects with fans through the power of storytelling and we have attracted and nurtured top talent across the globe,” she said.

Lee has focused on diverse, high-quality scripted programming that BET says positively highlights the African-American experience. Key shows include Being Mary Jane, The Real Husbands of Hollywood and In Contempt. Her commitment to music and live entertainment led to The BET Awards.

BET is part of Viacom. No successor has yet been named for Lee’s positions at BET.

After she leaves, Lee will continue her role on corporate and non-profit boards, and her work with Time's Up and The Recording Academy Diversity & Inclusion Task Force. Lee’s annual gathering of prominent African-American women, Leading Women Defined, will also continue under her leadership.

“Debra’s vision and creativity have cemented BET Networks as a premier network for African Americans and lovers of black culture,” said Bob Bakish, president and CEO of Viacom. “As BET continues to move forward, we will always be grateful to Debra for her leadership and commitment to creating top-notch entertainment that both entertains and empowers. Her passion for the BET brand has resulted in countless wins and has allowed BET to stay competitive in a growing media landscape.”

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.