Townsend Joins MBC

Major Broadcasting Corp. will undergo a major on-air facelift that will include more reality and variety programming created and overseen by producer and actor Robert Townsend.

The African-American-targeted network may also change its name in the near future as it looks to reposition itself in the marketplace.

Townsend has assumed the newly created role of network president of original productions and is charged with developing family-oriented reality and variety shows for the channel, previously been known for its black college-sports coverage and news/public-affairs programming.

“We’ve defined our programming as sports and news/information shows; now we’re defining family programming at the apex of that triangle as original entertainment,” MBC executive vice president of operations Travis Mitchell said. “Our whole focus now is to fill out our programming mission with variety and reality shows that African-Americans watch disproportionately compared to other groups.”

Townsend said he’s already in production with several new family-based variety and reality shows, as well as two primetime original scripted series that he hopes to have on the air by October. Also in production: a boxing-themed reality series featuring four-time heavyweight champion and MBC co-owner Evander Holyfield.

Townsend, who produced such films as Hollywood Shuffle and starred in The WB sitcom The Parent ’Hood (1995-99), hopes to launch a series similar to Star Search, tapping the best amateur talent from around the country, as well as from historically black colleges.

“We’re going out to find our next stars,” he said.

Also on the docket is a kids-targeted block to air weekdays and Saturday mornings. Some programs being developed include a series of spelling bee contests; a series focusing on the top teachers around the country, as nominated by their students; and an issues-related talk show hosted by young adults, Townsend said.

Mitchell would not reveal how much the network is budgeting for the new programming. He said affiliates and viewers wanted more original entertainment series and less old, acquired library content.

The move comes during a taxing time for the five-year old network. Now in nearly 12 million homes, MBC has struggled to gain significant distribution in a crowded digital-cable marketplace.

In March, it laid off six low- and mid-level executives in various departments as part of an overall repositioning.

Atlanta-based MBC also hopes to raise an undisclosed amount of additional funding.

In addition to Holyfield, owners include entertainer Marlon Jackson, lawyer Willie Gary, former baseball star Cecil Fielder and cable veteran Alvin James.

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.