Upfronts 2016: BET Unveils 'Power of More' With New Scripted, Reality Projects

BET will look to retain its leadership role within the African-American television marketplace with a lineup of new original series and digital offerings, the network said Thursday in advance of its upfront presentation in New York.

The network will deliver several new scripted series and original movies to its core audience even as more general entertainment networks look to reach African-American viewers with original projects of their own. BET Networks chairman and CEO Debra Lee told Multichannel News that she’s encouraged by the proliferation of African-American targeted programming in the marketplace and the value being placed on the African-American viewer, but no one has the 36-year relationship with the audience that BET has.

“It’s a really exciting time for us and the goal is to continue to do what’s working,” Lee said. “We’re always aware of competition and we've had this audience that now everyone his interested in for 36 years, and we do it 24 hours a day everyday.”

She added the increase in the network's scripted lineup in particular that already includes hits such as Being Mary Jane and The Real Husbands Of Hollywood has been generated by the growing demand for such content across multiple platforms.

“Our audiences are demanding more content and more options,” Lee said. “It’s incumbent upon us to keep fresh content coming all year long.”  

Among the new scripted BET series planned are Tales, a one-hour anthology series of “song stories” weaving classic hip-hop songs into 3-act narratives from executive producer Irv Gotti Lorenzo; The Yard, which takes an inside look at the world of Historically Black Colleges and Universities starring Anika Noni Rose (Dreamgirls, The Princess and The Frog) and Ruben Santiago-Hudson (Billions, American Gangster); Benched, a one-hour 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; Rebel, which follows the life of police officer who turns into a private investigator after her brother is slain by police, and Comedy Get Down, which follows the behind the scenes exploits of five touring comics including George Lopez, DL Hughley, Cedric the Entertainer, Eddie Griffin and Charlie Murphy.

New unscripted shows on BET include docu-series Music Moguls, family-themed docu series Gary Owen Family, gospel-themed series Joyful Noise and hip-hop lyrical competition series One Shot.

The new projects join previously announced original movies/mini-series New Edition: The Movie and Madiba, about the life of Nelson Mandela.  

On the digital front, BET has reached a new partnership with Snapchat to launch a 2-day BET Awards and BET Experience Snapchat Live Story that will allow users of the social media app to follow the events leading up to the June awards telecast while offering advertisers access to BET’s social community.

The network on April 27 will also relaunch its BET.com and BET Now App.

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.