Upfronts 2016: BET Relaunches Website and Mobile App

Complete Coverage: Upfronts 2016

Looking to assert its leadership with African-American viewers, BET announced its programming plans for next year and new research about reaching black consumers.

"There's a lot of noise in our space," said Debra Lee, CEO of BET, which is making its presentation in New York and Chicago this week. "But in a more competitive TV landscape, we're still number one."

BET also said it is launching a new version of its website and app and has formed new partnerships with social media outlets Snapchat and WhoSay.

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"Our brand has always been a trendsetter, shaping the culture and leading the conversation. Not only is our content more authentic, powerful, and relevant, but now it's more accessible across more channels and platforms than ever before – and it gives our audience more ways to interact with the BET brand than ever before," said Louis Carr, president of Media Sales, BET Networks.

Carr added that the network has conducted four new research studies on African-American consumers. One focuses on African-American women and, in a follow up to an earlier study, a look at African-American moviegoers, who buy a lot of tickets to films that don't feature black actors, he said.

In addition to several new scripted and unscripted projects, BET has two high profile TV movies on the way.

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Madiba is the first film telling the story of Nelson Mandela. It will star Laurence Fishburne and is being directed and executive produced by Kevin Hooks.

New Edition: The Movie is a three-part miniseries that will take a look at one of the first boy bands. Bryshere Gray (Empire), Elijah Kelley (The ButlerThe Wiz Live!), Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Luke James, Keith Powers (Straight Outta Compton), Algee Smith (Let It Shine) and Woody McClain (Autographs) are among the cast.

Here's the rest of BET's upfront slate, according to the network:


*             Tales - From executive producer Irv Gotti Lorenzo comes Tales, a 60-minute scripted anthology series of "song stories" weaving classic hip-hop songs into visually stunning 3-act narratives.  Far beyond the music video or the live event, Tales brings hip-hop alive in a completely new way for television.  With "Tales," each song's lyrics are imagined as cinematic adventures with a different director and screenwriter per song story.  The series is a multi-platform cross-collaboration with Tidal, the global music and entertainment platform, where the director's cut versions of each episode will live exclusively after premiering on BET.  Subscribers will be able to stream the series on their web browser or through the Tidal mobile app.  Tales is produced and created by Irv Gotti and his Visionary Ideas production company.

*             The Yard -  Starring Tony(r) Award winners Anika Noni Rose (Dreamgirls, The Princess and The Frog) and Reuben Santiago-Hudson (Billions, American Gangster) along with actors Jazz Raycole (The Soul Man, My Wife and Kids) and newcomer Peyton Alex Smith; "THE YARD" is a dynamic scripted dramatic series that takes viewers inside the unique, culture-filled world of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU).  "THE YARD" follows ambitious yet troubled Dr. Eva Fletcher (Rose), the newly-elected President of the fictional Georgia A&M University. Upon arriving, Eva is charged with saving the prestigious HBCU from bankruptcy and her twenty-year marriage from crumbling while managing a tumultuous relationship with her rebellious only daughter.  A diverse group of freshman also promise to keep Eva's hands full.   The multi-talented cast also includes TV icon Jasmine Guy and Sean Blakemore ("General Hospital") as well as exciting emerging talents-Zoe Renee, Michelle DeFraites, Erica Michelle, Jake Allyn, Larry Rhem, and E. Roger Mitchell.  The emotionally-charged series is created by Felicia D. Henderson (Gossip Girl, Soul Food) and Charles Holland (CSI: Miami, NY Undercover), based on a concept created by Rob Hardy (How To Get Away With Murder, Power).  The show is executive produced by Henderson and Hardy, who will also direct. Hardy executive produced Stomp The Yard. Co-executive producers on the project include Holland, Will Packer and Mitzi Miller. The multi-talented cast also includes TV icon Jasmine Guy and Sean Blakemore ("General Hospital") as well as exciting emerging talents-Zoe Renee, Michelle DeFraites, Erica Michelle, Jake Allyn, Larry Rhem, and E. Roger Mitchell. "THE YARD" is production of Rainforest Entertainment and WaterWalk Productions in conjunction with BET Networks.

*             "BENCHED" is a one-hour original scripted dramedy about a reluctant, recently appointed judge who is not quite ready to give up his life as  bachelor to begin a new life as a public servant. Each week, he confronts the underbelly of the criminal justice system that has derailed a generation of African Americans, including those close to him - as he upholds the tenets of the same system. "BENCHED" is created by Scott Brown.

*             "REBEL" is an extraordinary take on the seminal police drama that examines the unique and conflicted relationship officers of color have with their jobs - at a time when police forces are rife with brutality and misconduct.  Oakland police officer, Rebecca "Rebel" Cole, has always excelled by playing by the rules.  She has always known that she must be better and smarter on the job because she is both black and female.  After her brother is slain by police, Rebel soon becomes disillusioned with the system and is forced to take matters into her own hands and become a private investigator and a champion for her community.  Caught between family loyalty and the fraternity in blue, Rebel's actions set in motion a cause-and-effect crisis that can't be undone.  "REBEL" is produced by Mar Vista Entertainment for BET and co-written, executive produced and directed by visionary filmmaker John Singleton. Dallas Jackson also serves an Executive Producer.

*             "COMEDY GET DOWN"  is the first scripted comedy series about what really happens behind the scenes of a massive stand-up comedy tour featuring five legendary comics - George Lopez, DL Hughley, Cedric the Entertainer, Eddie Griffin and Charlie Murphy. They're hilarious, insane and unapologetic on stage, but the second they step off is when the real show begins.  The storylines are based on actual events that have taken place not only on their wildly successful Comedy Get Down arena tour, but throughout the 25 plus years each has been a nationally headlining comedian.  A workplace comedy at its core, the 30 minutes, single-camera series explores the personal and professional relationships of these five comic titans as they navigate the challenges of life on the road: seedy venues, racist road managers, pushy wives, angry baby mamas, obsessive fans, demanding celebrities, shady politicians and more. Free 90 Media's Tom Brunelle and Brad Wollack serve as Executive Producers along with 3 Arts' Michael Rotenberg, Greg Walter and Kimberly Carver and Eric C. Rhone from A Bird and A Bear Entertainment.


*             MUSIC MOGULS - Birdman. Dame Dash. Jermaine Dupri. Snoop Dogg. They've spent the last 20 years making hits, stars and headlines, as well as laying the foundation for some of today's biggest acts. Although they've sold millions of records and taken the risks to live the life of a mogul, not every calculation yields the desired return. Over eight 60-minute episode episodes, this hard-hitting docu-series takes you into their lives as each entrepreneur navigates both familiar and new territory - from grooming new talent and building new empires to raising their college-bound children. Being a music mogul is grown man business; learn what it takes to stay at the top of the game.  Music Moguls is produced by L. Plummer Media (The Westbrooks, Preachers of LA, Living with Funny) with Lemuel Plummer, Bryan "Birdman" Williams, Snoop Dogg and Chad Greulach serving as Executive Producers.

*             GARY OWEN FAMILY - Gary Owen is arguably Black America's most beloved non-Black comic. He became part of the family as the first Caucasian man to host BET's ComicView, and confirmed he was here to stay with his star turns in the Think Like A Man films, Ride Along and Meet The Blacks. He also starred in his own hit stand-up comedy specials including I Agree With Myself, True Story and the upcoming I Got My Associates.  Now, he brings his own interracial and blended family to BET in a 30-minute unscripted series that is colorful, truthful and hysterical. Gary Owen loves his wife so much, he wants to marry her again - and the path down the aisle is paved with non-stop laughter as he balances planning a wedding with raising his three rambunctious children and growing his white-hot career.  Gary Owen Family is produced by Bunim/Murray Productions.  Bunim/Murray's Gil Goldschein and Jeff Jenkins serve as Executive Producers along with Gary Owen, Stella Bulochnikov, Brian Sher and TIP "T.I." Harris.

*             "JOYFUL NOISE" is the gospel music hour that delivers the perfect blend of performances from today's gospel super stars, rising new artists, powerful personal testimonies and insightful man-on-the-street interviews with the inspirational Willie Moore Jr.  Hosted by one of gospel music's most gifted artists, two-time GRAMMY(r), Soul Train, Dove and Stellar Award winner Tye Tribbett, this series is sure to strengthen the genre's appeal with younger audiences, while honoring the core values of its rich traditions.  The radical singer, songwriter, and preacher who's known for his edgy and energetic live performances and hosting abilities, continues to shatter the mold of what is traditionally known as Gospel music. A true innovator, with one of the most relevant voices of this generation, Tribbett is set to create a dynamic new caliber of hosting.In addition to a variety of musical performances, each show will also feature a power-filled sermonette by one of the nation's leading pastors, setting the tone for a more compelling worship experience. Finally, "JOYFUL NOISE" will showcase amazing local churches from around the nation, giving viewers the opportunity to get their hometown church featured on the show. "JOYFUL NOISE" is guaranteed to deliver the kind of entertainment that feeds the spirit and uplifts the soul.

*             "ONE SHOT" is a high-octane hip hop lyrical competition series hosted by Sway Calloway, iconic hip hop personality and radio host. Sway leads a panel of hip hop legends in a nationwide quest for the next explosive hip hop star with mass appeal, on-the-fly musicianship and command of the stage. Neither battle show nor glossy newcomer search, "ONE SHOT" provides the first and only dynamic platform for America's best rising hip hop talent. Each contestant's main competition can be found in the mirror.  Sway serves as Executive Producer along with Mike Smith, Dominick Wickliffe pka "Kxng Crooked", Rod Sepand p/k/a "King Tech", Nancy Nayor, and Dean Hadaegh.  Julie Insogna Jarrett and Seth Jarrett will also serve as Executive Producers for production company, Jarrett Creative.  Zach Hermann and Erika Smith serve as Co-executive producers.


*             QUEEN BEE -  Entrepreneurs are an enormous force in American business and culture, and African American women are among the fastest growing segment of entrepreneurs in the nation. They have the ideas, the creativity, and the drive, but too often they fly under the radar and don't get the mentoring and capital they need to launch their product or take their company to the next level. Developed by Jon Housman, Ora TV, and SWSI, this ground-breaking reality competition series discovers amazing entrepreneurs building real-life companies, and then challenges them to take their skills to the next level. Mentored - and put to the test - by a panel of celebrities and successful entrepreneurs like Tonya Lewis Lee, our contestants will go through a series of intense challenges in an effort to win the competition - and a potentially life-changing opportunity to become Queen Bee.  Jon Housman and Jamie Schutz serve as Executive Producers.

*             MONICA MORTON - On Centric, real women are stars. This year, we meet the real-life investigator and crisis manager that scandal-plagued celebrities and athletes already rely upon: MONICA MORTON, P.I.  With her pistol in one hand and lipstick in the other, Monica uses her quick wit and sharp tongue to solve cases in this unscripted series.  Mike Sinclair is Executive Producer.

Jon Lafayette

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.