The new BET-scripted comedy “Second Generation Wayans” will debut Tuesday, Jan. 15 at 10:30 p.m. after the premiere of “Real Husbands of Hollywood.” The half-hour series stars Damien Dante Wayans, Craig Wayans, George O. Gore II and Tatyana Ali.
According to the network, viewers will see “the good, the funny and the ugly” as Damien Dante and Craig emerge from the long shadows of their uncles, Keenan, Damon, Shawn and Marlon Wayans (as well as their aunt, Kim), to carve out their own paths to stardom in Hollywood.
Joining the comedic duo, who have essentially grown up in show business, is George O. Gore II (formerly of the sitcom “My Wife & Kids”) as friend and business partner George and Tatyana Ali (formerly of “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air”) as their office assistant Maya.
“It’s basically ‘Entourage,’ but with my nephews in it,” said Marlon Wayans, one of the executive producers of the show. “That’s my sister Elvira’s son — Damien, and Deidre’s son is Craig.”
“I’m involved in it if they need me,” Keenan Ivory Wayans, the monarch of the Wayans comedy dynasty, told BET.com. “When they went to do this show, it initially was going to be all of us producing. But I said to Craig and Damien, ‘This is your thing and you’re doing this to establish yourselves, so you all don’t need me.’ They don’t need Marlon either [laughs]. But Marlon is there in case they need him. They’re doing their thing.”
It appears that the irreverent Marlon, whose hilarious feature film, “A Haunted House,” is now open in theaters, is passing on to his young nephews the showbiz knowledge that his big brother shared with him. “My brother Keenan taught me that you can’t just be a ‘Black actor,’” he said. “If you want to be a Black actor, expect not to work. If you want the Black actor to work, then you must take your Black a** and write and produce and learn to direct, so that you can write a vehicle for your Black actor to be in, and that’s the bottom line.”
“The Wayans family name is synonymous with comedy and entertainment, and you’ll indulge in plenty of laughter and amusement in ‘Second Generation Wayans.’ You’ll also witness firsthand that life as a Wayans and childhood star isn’t all fun and games in Hollywood. In a way, this series is a behind-the-scenes look at what it’s like to juggle the pressures of being famous while trying to create your own path,” said Loretha Jones, president of original programming at BET.
Beverly Bond is the model-turned-DJ whose vision for a foundation — Black Girls Rock! — has spawned into the inspiring awards show of the same title that celebrates the brilliance of Black women. The second Annual Black Girls Rock! program that will air Sunday on BET is a pure evolution of the Black Girls Rock (BGR) mission that began with a T-shirt.
“First I started the T-shirt and was thinking of all the incredible women to list on it,” Bond told BlackEnterprise.com. “I was writing down all of these names and just couldn’t fit them all. In my attempt to try, I said, ‘This is bigger than just a shirt.’ So I decided to start a mentoring program.” The message shirt has since expanded into a full range of tees and hoodies that are currently available for purchase through the organization’s website store.”
Though she sought out to honor and inspire other Black women, Bond’s vision for Black Girls Rock! resulted in her own honors and distinctions. She was named one of New York’s Fifty Fabulous Females by Love Heals, a leading foundation for AIDS education, in 2006; received the 2009 “Gold Rush Award” by Russell Simmons’ Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation for her community work and for promoting youth programs; listed on The Source magazine’s 2009 Power Circle group of leaders in hip hop and got the 2009 “Agent of Change Award” the “Obama: THAT ONE!” Pre-Inaugural Awards gala in Washington, D.C., — just to name a few of her honors. This year Black Girls Rock! returns to BET for the second year with “Reed Between the Lines” star Tracee Ellis Ross and actress Regina King on board as the hosts.
“Last year was the first year we partnered with Black Girls Rock! and Beverly Bonds,” said Debra Lee, Black Entertainment Television’s chairman and CEO. “It’s such a great cause, and it was so successful last year. It’s such a simple premise to do an all-female show, but once you do it you realize how powerful it is, and what it means to young girls to see women being honored. It’s an all-female band and all-female performers, and it really was much bigger than we expected. It is personally gratifying to be a part of this, and for us to be able to help Beverly spread her message.
Since 2006, Black Girls Rock! has been dedicated to the healthy development of young women and girls and seeks to build the self-esteem and self-worth of young women of color by changing their outlook on life, broadening their horizons, and helping them to empower themselves through mentorship, arts eduction, cultural exploration and public service. In addition to promoting the arts for young women of color, BGR encourage dialogue and analysis of the ways women of color are portrayed in the media.
“I’m sure that there are a lot of Black girls that rock,” said legendary model-agent Bethann Hardison. “I think that the ones that I’m more impressed with are the ones who have passed. I’m still looking for the ones that be rocking in the present, and God knows maybe there will be some rocking in the future — because they surely have the potential. It’s a great organization, to take it to a further point where girls can have a bit a real life education.”
The recent BGR taping at New York’s historic Paradise Theater included performances by Philly’s own Jill Scott and state Sen. Vincent Hughes’ wife, actress Sheryl Lee Ralph, along with a guest sighting of Philadelphia Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown. “Mommies know that Black Girls Rock!, and we want to help our young daughters be wherever they need to be to be reaffirmed about that,” said Reynolds Brown. “Tonight is an affirmation that Black girls do rock everywhere — not just in New York, but also in Philly.”
The second Annual Black Girls Rock! special will air on BET Nov. 6 at 8 p.m. Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown and the “Uniquely You Summit for Girls” are co-hosting the Philadelphia Watch Party for the 2011 Black Girls Rock Awards on BET on Nov. 6 at 7 p.m. at Ms. Tootsie’s Restaurant Bar & Lounge, 1314 South St. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased at the door, or via www.urbantix.com. Ten percent of ticket sales will be donated to Black Girls Rock, Inc.
On Tuesday Sept. 18 at 8 p.m., BET Networks will premiere “BET Presents: BAD25 — The Short Films of Michael Jackson,” a two-hour tribute to the “industry-redefining short films” emanating from the landmark Michael Jackson album, “Bad,” which is celebrating its 25th anniversary. The TV special airs the same day as the release of “Bad25,” available in multiple formats, which will include CDs of the original album plus rare and previously unreleased audio as well as the first ever authorized DVD and CD release of a concert from the record breaking Bad World Tour.
The network states that it partnered with Sony Music and The Estate of Michael Jackson to create “a unique and spectacular televised tribute to the short films from Michael Jackson’s ‘Bad.’” Through photos, visuals and interviews with celebrity fans, cultural critics and contemporary artists who have been influenced by Jackson, the special will take viewers on a fascinating journey celebrating the everlasting influence on the music video art form by “one of the most historically significant works of modern music.” The special will include interviews with Ne-Yo, Ashanti, Michael Eric Dyson, A$AP Rocky, Beverly Johnson, Affion Crockett, Al Sharpton, MC Lyte and others.
“Bad” is not only a multi-platinum album; it is a cultural phenomenon. The album was number one around the world, made history with five consecutive number one singles on the Billboard chart, produced nine chart-topping singles, and nine groundbreaking and iconic short films, including “Smooth Criminal,” “The Way You Make Me Feel” and “Bad.” To date, the “Bad” album has generated over 45 million units in sales. The “BAD World Tour” was Jackson’s first concert tour as a solo artist, and his only North American tour, and included 123 concerts attended by more than 4.4 million fans over 16 months. When it concluded, the tour had shattered all previous touring records for attendance and local gross revenue.
Even so, Jackson reportedly felt some anxiety over the project, which followed “Thriller,” a masterpiece that remains the bestselling album of all time.
“He wanted to top himself every time he came out,” said filmmaker Spike Lee, who directed the video for Jackson’s “They Don’t Really Care About Us.” At the 69th Annual Venice Film Festival, Lee premiered “Bad 25,” his documentary commemorating the 25th anniversary of the album being released on Aug. 31, 1987. The film will makes its broadcast debut this Thanksgiving on ABC.
Comedian and actor Kevin Hart, the Philadelphia native who stole the show in the 2012 feature film “Think Like a Man,” has teamed up with BET Networks to bring viewers “Real Husbands of Hollywood,” which promises to be one of the funniest shows on television. Premiering on January 15 at 10 p.m., Hart calls the semi-scripted series that follows these Hollywood husbands along their surreal lives “the fakest reality show ever.”
According to the network, the real-life hubbies take on all things from the husband’s point of view, and you may recognize some situations or characters from those other reality shows, which is “completely on purpose.”
The high profile partners in this irreverent new comedy include Hart, who is recently divorced, Niek Cannon, husband of superstar Mariah Carey, Boris Kodjoe, husband of actress Nicole Ari Parker, Duane Martin, husband of actress Tisha Campbell-Martin, J.B. Smoove, husband of the songstress Shahidah Omar and Robin Thicke, husband of actress Paula Patton.
“Rather than creating these situations, the people on our show are making these situations,” Hart told The Hollywood Reporter. [For instance] “JB speaking, he spits a lot, let’s talk about it. We’re catty, we’re not getting along.” The first episode is titled “Easy Bake Kevin.”
Executive produced by Hollywood heavyweights Stan Lathan, Ralph Farquhar and Stephen Hill, as well as Hart and Chris Spencer, “Real Husbands of Hollywood” will also feature a number of special guest appearances by top stars from television, film, music and sports, such as Jay Leno, Ed O’Neill, Shaquille O’Neal, Nelly, Faizon Love, Common, Trey Songz, Cedric the Entertainer and “several other A-list surprises.”
The daring new comedy, which like “Curb Your Enthusiasm” is largely unscripted and improvisational, began as a skit on the 2011 BET Awards and morphed into a full blown series under the guidance of Lathan and Farquhar.
The Hollywood Reporter contributed to this report.
The Black Girls Rock! 2012 special on Black Entertainment Television/BET is back for a third televised installment to celebrate the achievements of remarkable women of color. Back by popular demand is the dynamic duo of Tracee Ellis Ross and Regina King who returned to co-host this year’s awards show, filmed last weekend at the historic Loews Paradise Theatre in New York City. The two-hour event will be a star-studded evening with performances and appearances by Alicia Keys, Brandy, India Arie, Keyshia Cole, Ciara and 2011 Black Girls Rock! Star Power Award recipient Academy Award-nominee Taraji P. Henson and more.
This year’s celebrants and award recipients include: Grammy Award-winning music legend Dionne Warwick – Living Legend Award; actress Kerry Washington – Star Power Award; magazine editor, writer and journalist Susan Taylor – Inspiration Award; singer-songwriter Alicia Keys – Rock Star Award; and human rights activists and doctors, Dr. Hawa Abdi and her daughters – Social Humanitarian Award. Black Girls Rock! 2012 will highlight empowering stories of excellence from women of color from a broad spectrum of diverse missions and professional backgrounds.
“It is important to inspire people generally,” said Warwick prior to the event. “Young women of course, because I happen to be a women, it is important that they know what womanhood is really all about, and the things that they can be and accomplish. So the thing is inspiration for everyone, and especially women, and especially Black women.”
“There is so little in media that represents girls positively — not hungering for men or baring their bodies inappropriately,” said Taylor on the red carpet. “Just that this is named ‘Black Girls Rock!’ excites me. It is intergenerational, and they are honoring women who have held their integrity strong, and we can all be under the tent and show Black girls — and women — that you can be anybody and anything that you want to be if you are willing to do the work.”
Viewers can expect more memorable moments from this year’s awards show, which will feature male entertainment stars performing for the first time.
“We don’t have enough time,” said crooner Eric Benet when asked about the women in his life. “I’m only standing here because Black girls rock. There were so many Black women in my life, that if I fell down, they were there to pick me up, slap me on the back of my head and say, ‘You know what? You can do better. You can be better.’ I think about the story of us as a people, and the mother of our people is the Black woman. You know that resilience, that love, that nurturing nature, that belief in the Black man when nobody else in the world would believe in the Black man. The Black woman was there to pick him up and give him that pride and that drive to be better and stronger. I’m one of those Black men, and I am just grateful for my mom, aunties and sisters.”
Since 2006, Black Girls Rock! has been dedicated to the healthy development of young women and girls by changing their outlook on life, broadening their horizons, and helping them to empower themselves.
“This show has become an essential platform where dynamic women are honored and exalted for bringing the best of our cultural contributions to the forefront,” said Beverly Bond, founder of Black Girls Rock! Inc. “The Black Girls Rock! award show on BET celebrates the nexus of achievements of women of color and showcases Black female excellence, to inspire and empower the next generation of leaders.”
Black Girls Rock! 2012 premieres Sunday, Nov. 4, on BET Networks.
Philadelphia native Vikter Duplaix has woven global culture, independent thought, fine arts and progressive music into a purely golden lifestyle. The Grammy-nominated singer, producer, DJ and lifestyle event curator is currently co-starring on the BET reality DJ competition series “Smirnoff’s Master of the Mix” and is hard at work on his third studio album, “LOVEmachine,” set for release in 2013. Duplaix, who is also a Philly 360 Ambassador, honed his craft on the streets of Philadelphia along with turntable legends DJs Jazzy Jeff and Cash Money.
“It was something that was in my blood from day one,” said Duplaix from his Venice Beach, Calif., home. “Everything in my life has been associated with music — including my mother being a music teacher. It’s something that doesn’t need a lot of thought from me; it’s a part of what I am and what I do and it will always be that way to some degree: either making it, talking about it or just admiring it, you know. I am very strongly connected to the Black lineage of music creator in this country because of my experience growing up in Philadelphia and being tutored by the legends like Gamble and Huff and DJ Jazzy Jeff and those that were before me. That’s my perspective.”
Duplaix describes himself as a “producer, singer, programmer” and uses drum machines to create basic grooves, and then he collaborates with “other great musicians,” including multi-Grammy-winning songwriter, musician and multi-platinum producer James Poysner. “Most throughout my career I’ve worked with James Poysner, and we have a very great understanding of how to enhance each others creativity.”
Being raised in both Philadelphia and Augusta, Ga., and singing in church choirs, Duplaix has the traditional soul singer’s assessment of the ebb and flow of music tastes. “I ultimately believe it’s got to go back to music that feels good,” notes Duplaix. “We’ve been in a 10-year run where everything sounds good — it’s modern and bright and technology has made it sound better and more clear and have more bass then ever before — but I think that we need to get back to musicianship (and not necessary horn sections and strings like Gamble and Huff), but it still needs to have the humanity in the music so we can connect to it a little better, combined with how modern technology has enhanced the listening experience.”
In Thefuture.fm mix series called “The Modern Textures Vol. 1,” Duplaix gives a visually rhythmic and melodic experience. The unique Internet radio platform is the first of its kind to automate the process of legally tracking mixed audio, opening access for music fans to legally and easily find, share and enjoy mixtapes, while removing the liability for DJs and advertisers who want to monetize the mixtape on the Web or at live events. The platform allows consumers to search, discover, follow, purchase tracks and stream whole mixes from over 5,000 DJs across any style or genre.
“It’s something that is very progressive because this give you an opportunity to click on what you like and get it at that moment, instead of you scratching your head wondering or forget about it later,” explained Duplaix. “Essentially, it’s about sounds that move you and take you places. This particular mix begins with a deep house music flow then it breaks down into an atmospheric beat generation/mid-tempo futuristic groove. This mix will hopefully give you enough of each song to enjoy the creativity of each track and wet your palette for more.”
For more information, visit www.Thefuture.fm.
Comedian/actor Mike Epps, who recently received favorable reviews for his portrayal of “Satin” in the 2012 update of the classic feature film “Sparkle,” returns to host the 2012 BET Hip-Hop Awards, airing at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 9. Epps made his hosting debut at the annual hip-hop celebration in 2009.
Videotaped at the Boisfeuillet Jones Atlanta Civie Center on Sept. 29, the BET Hip-Hop Awards pay homage to “a culture that changed the world while highlighting the year’s best in hip-hop music.” The ceremony recognizes artists in 19 categories including Best Hip-Hop Video, Best Live Performer, Lyricist of the Year, Video Director of the Year, Producer of the Year, Track of the Year and Rookie of the Year.
Performers at the annual hip-hop summit include Rick Ross, Wiz Khalifa, 50 Cent, Fat Joe, Missy Elliott, Omarion, Busta Rhymes, Funkmaster Flex, French Montana, T.I., Kirko Bangz, MGK, Kendrick Lamar, Diddy and Future.
The evening is highlighted by freestyle sessions featuring T.I., B.o.B, Snoop Dogg, E-40 and Cassidy, but the mood turns somber when rap icon LL Cool J pays homage to Chris Lighty, the revered hip-hop mogul who took his own life last August. Rappers Q-Tip, Fat Joe, Busta Rhymes, Missy Elliott and 50 Cent take the stage to perform in his memory. In addition, T.I. presents legendary rapper Rakim with the “I Am Hip-Hop Legend Award” honoring “for his contribution to the music industry as being one of the greatest lyricists of all time.”
“It’s going to be a great show,” said BET President Stephen Hill. “We got Meek Mill, 2 Chainz, Future and Diddy doing a great performance. We got a fantastic tribute to Chris Lighty, who a lot of people may not know because he wasn’t a performer, but he was a manager and a real force behind some of your favorite hip-hop acts. We have a great all-star tribute to Chris.”
If you’re Black in America, it appears that the country’s most important political strategists, and its most visible political candidates, have already written you off. They’ve decided, somehow, that you no longer matter, that your vote is not worth “courting,” as they try to gather the support they need to win the upcoming Presidential election.
Strategists in both parties don’t bother reaching out to you because you’ve already made it abundantly clear that you don’t have any issues that you, yourself, are willing to fight for. Republican strategists, specifically, don’t try because they believe we put allegiance to the Democratic Party ahead of all else.
In fact, following a recent highly questionable poll, conducted on behalf of BET, the pollster announced that Barack Obama commanded 94 percent of the Black vote, and that Mitt Romney could claim 0 percent. None, not a single digit, nothing.
It didn’t sound plausible. After all, we all know there will always be SOME Black Americans who still relate to the “Party of Lincoln.” There will always be SOME who consider themselves “conservative,” “extreme capitalists,” members of the “religious right,” or just plain “anti-Democrats,” for their own reasons.
At the same time, Democratic strategists haven’t felt the need to address our issues, because they know they can count on us, like clock-work, providing high-80 percent, and low-90 percent support levels to their party, no matter what.
To the Republicans, therefore, we’re seen as a “lost cause;” to the Democrats we’re considered “cooked, packaged, and ready for delivery.” With our track record of voting overwhelmingly Democratic in presidential elections dating all the way back to Franklin D. Roosevelt, and our “love and adoration” for Barack Obama, the Democrats, not surprisingly, feel no concern, at all, that we will stray from the “reservation,” on election day.
So where does that leave us with November 6 fast-approaching?
After marching and dying for the right to vote, after the struggles of the Civil Rights Movement, after fighting to register every eligible Black voter in our communities, nationwide, we’ve been reduced to mere “bystanders” in our country’s most important election.
There are 42 million Black people in the U.S. and, as of November, 2010, we constituted 12 percent of all the country’s registered voters. That compares to Hispanics, who represented 7 percent of all registered voters, Asians, who represented 2.5 percent of registered voters, and whites who saw their numbers decline by 2.9 percent, to 77.5 percent of registered voters, by the same date.
When you consider the fact that one out of every eight registered voters in this country is a Black person, it's difficult to accept the fact that both parties, both major candidates, have gone out of their way to exclude us from the national political conversation.
Black unemployment has remained consistently at a level that is about twice as high as white unemployment. In fact, the government recently reported that, as of the end of September, Black unemployment stood at 13.4 percent, while white unemployment was 7.0 percent (Hispanic unemployment, by the way, was announced at 9.9 percent).
Somehow, for some reason, Black folks in this country continue to catch way more hell in the job market than everybody else.
Do we care? Are we holding anybody accountable for that? Do we want that pattern to be turned around by whoever wins on November 6?
If that’s what we want, we certainly haven’t said so. Maybe we’re beginning to believe that it’s normal and appropriate for Black people to be twice as unemployed as whites, more unemployed than Hispanics, and almost three times more unemployed than Asians (4.8 percent).
Maybe what Black folks used to say about themselves, in the South, years ago, is still true: “We’ve been down so long, getting up don’t even cross our minds.”
How about the disproportionately negative impact of high-rate subprime mortgage loans and home foreclosures on the Black community? The Center for Responsible Lending has disclosed that about 11 percent of Black homeowners are in “some state of foreclosure, “ and that more than one million Black families will lose their homes in the year 2012.
The Washington Post has reported that those foreclosure rates would damage the credit scores of future generations of Blacks — permanently.
In addition, due largely to a combination of discriminatory lending practices, and Blacks often being “first-fired” in corporate layoffs, Black home ownership has dropped from 50 percent, six years ago, to 44.8 percent, in 2011. That compares to a 74.1 percent home ownership rate for white Americans.
Who should be held accountable for not interceding with financial institutions and large corporations on our behalf, in these situations? Maybe it should be the Republican Party, the Democratic Party, Mitt Romney and the beloved President Barack Obama. None of them seems to be interested in the job.
Also, schools in Black communities are the most underfunded and the worst-performing in the country, so, as bad as things are now, our futures most likely will be even worse.
How else have candidates demonstrated their complete disregard and disdain for Black voters? Among other things, they leave your communities out of their budgets, and they don’t visit your neighborhoods, when it’s time to make a political speech.
Hey, judging by the content at the last, sorry “presidential debate,” both candidates also seemed to go out of their way to avoid even saying the words "Black," "African American," "West Indian," or "African." Even when the esteemed Mr. Obama talked about his family on Wednesday, he was very careful only to mention the respect and admiration he holds for his grandmother and grandfather, who came from Kansas, while saying not a single word about his grandmother or grandfather from Kenya.
That didn't seem to matter to us.
We were, apparently, too focused on whether the "Republican who ignores us" or the “Democrat who ignores us" put on the best show, during the debate.
There was no outcry about the absence of our issues from the two candidates’ talking points, from any of our so-called Black leaders.
Even worse, since the campaign began, we have been able to identify no senior-level campaign operatives in either the Romney campaign or the Obama campaign. With Black folks having already declared their undying allegiance to Barack Obama and his re-election, we shouldn’t have been shocked by such a situation among the members of the Republican candidate’s brain trust.
But, Team Obama, despite its assumption that Black voters have nowhere else to go, could have benefitted significantly from input at the senior level that might have helped to keep 14 million potential Black voters energized and turned out, on Election Day.
Perhaps we should have gotten a clue when the president opted not to attend the NAACP National Convention, or when he failed to attend the Black Caucus Gala, just last month, or when he joined Romney in declining an invitation from the National Newspaper Publishers Association to engage in a public discussion of Black issues.
After the debate, Team Obama immediately began to circulate among other excuses, the notion that the President’s dispassionate, unfocused and losing performance was based on his concern about being perceived as an “angry Black man."
Hey, there’s a time and a place for everything — including justifiable anger.
What the African-American community needs; in fact, what America needs, is a new generation of intelligent, courageous, issues-focused, “angry Black men and women” to go along with the “angry Hispanics,” “angry Jewish people,” “angry gays," “angry Asians,” and "angry whites” that we already have as part of our national political process.
Until we, in the Black community, identify such people, and put them to work for us, we’ll most certainly continue to be "political bystanders" in our own county’s most important elections.
A. Bruce Crawley is president and principal owner of Millennium 3 Management Inc.
NEW YORK — As the crowd counted down, Magic Johnson pulled a large, silver lever jutting from a box labeled “ASPiRE.” With that, his new cable network went live.
Then stagehands whisked the contraption off the dais at Aspire’s gala premiere party Wednesday night. The switch was just a prop, of course, connected to nothing.
But Magic Johnson’s ties to the African-American community (not to mention sports history and contemporary culture) are direct and strong.
Now, the basketball great and business tycoon is leveraging his clout and good name to launch Aspire.
“We have a big platform for African-American work,” Johnson told the gathered. “Family driven content, positive images of African Americans — that’s what we want that platform for!”
Big aspirations, indeed, as Aspire makes its debut. Initially it’s available in about 7 million homes and in 16 of the top 25 African-American markets (including New York, Atlanta, Chicago and Washington). It can be seen by some customers served by Time Warner Cable Inc. and by Comcast Corp., the nation’s largest cable operator, which is introducing the minority-oriented Aspire as part of an agreement struck with the Federal Communications Commission when Comcast purchased NBC Universal.
Aspire’s reach will grow to 12 million homes by year’s end, to 20 million to 30 million homes by the end of 2013, and to 40 million homes within two years, according to Johnson.
“Focus groups told us African Americans want more family content on TV,” he said a few hours before the party. “If they would have told me, ‘We don’t need another channel, there’s not an opportunity for you,’ we wouldn’t be sitting here.”
Seated in a raised director’s chair whose exaggerated height seems made-to-order for the towering former L.A. Lakers point guard, Johnson is speaking with a reporter in an NBC green room during a busy day of meetings and media appearances.
“I wouldn’t get into this if I didn’t feel there was an opportunity,” he goes on. “That’s what I do. I look for opportunities.”
Johnson doesn’t dismiss the growing roster of other networks targeting Black viewers.
“BET dominates the young people and does a great job,” he says. “TV One skews a little older. We’re gonna skew older than both of them. Blacks want options; they want variety, like everybody else. There’ll be enough viewers for all of us. So everybody wins.”
He says Aspire is aiming for Black families with a slate of enlightening and positive programming — the sort of fare that everyone can gather in the living room to watch, “the way I grew up,” Johnson fondly recalls.
Aspire will air movies, documentaries, music and comedy, as well as faith and inspirational programs.
Initially, the schedule consists of acquisitions, including long-ago series like “The Bill Cosby Show,” “I Spy,” “Julia” and “The Flip Wilson Show.” The network promises documentaries chronicling real-life events, people and places that shaped Black history. Movies include “Shaft,” “Bird,” “Sarafina!” and “Lilies of the Field.”
Eventually, Aspire plans to create its own programming. For that, Johnson hopes to tap Black artists ranging from young up-and-comers to the likes of Spike Lee and Tyler Perry.
But what about a certain world-class star already on the payroll? Will Earvin “Magic” Johnson step in front of the Aspire cameras?
“I may do a show interviewing celebrities,” he says. “Or a business show. We haven’t planned it yet, but African Americans want to know how to build wealth. They want to know how to start a business or grow one. Home ownership. Having good credit. I think I’m going to have to go on and teach them that sort of thing.”
The principal owner of Aspire is Magic Johnson Enterprises, with the 52-year-old Johnson as the network’s chairman and CEO.
But Aspire is teamed with Atlanta-based GMC (formerly the Gospel Music Network), which, available in about 50 million homes, focuses on uplifting music and family entertainment. GMC is providing operational infrastructure (what Johnson dubs “the back of the house”) for Aspire, also based in Atlanta.
Johnson declines to say exactly what he’s investing in Aspire as its principal owner, but acknowledges “it takes $100 (million) or $150 million just to turn the lights on and really get it going — and we’re gonna be in that neighborhood.”
Already, Johnson has landed five blue chip “charter brand partners”: Coca-Cola Co., Chrysler, Wal-Mart Stores Inc., L’Oreal and Nationwide Insurance. He says his network is on track to be “almost break-even in a year.”
Johnson sees Aspire as the logical next step in his burgeoning media empire, whose holdings include 20 radio stations, Vibe magazine and the “Soul Train” brand.
But an almost dizzying array of other investments includes real estate, restaurants, a prepaid debit card he soon will introduce and, of course, the Los Angeles Dodgers, purchased in May for $2 billion by a group he fronted.
“I am SO proud of the Dodgers,” he grins when that subject comes up. “I’m like a little kid! To know I own the Dodgers is even blowing ME away!”
In short, Johnson’s career as an NBA legend and Hall of Famer is rivaled by his entrepreneurial efforts, which, along with his philanthropic and motivational work, largely cater to the Black community.
“I’ve been doing business almost as long as I’ve been playing basketball,” he says. “I bought a radio station when I was 19 years old, when I first got drafted by the Lakers.”
For now, despite his many business interests, he’s giving Aspire top priority.
“When you’re starting a business, you have to be more involved day-to-day,” he says. “I’m a control freak. Even though I allow people to do their jobs, I want to know everything, and I HAVE to know everything: It’s my brand, my name; everything is out there on the line.”
Looking to Aspire’s future, he points out how he always had two big dreams: to play in the NBA and be a businessman.
“I don’t know why God blessed me with this life, but I’m glad he did, and I love it,” Johnson sums up. “And I’m full steam ahead!” — (AP)
Rapper T.I., who was recently released from federal custody, kicked off the 2011 BET Hip Hop Awards in Atlanta on Saturday to the delight of the near-capacity crowd. The rapper, who spent the last several months in prison due to a parole violation, was in rare form and did not disappoint.
In between scene changes, a pre-taped freestyle by Cypher participants from across the country was shown on the screens. The Cypher scenes were filmed in September.
The notable presenters were Malcolm Jamal-Warner and Tracee Ellis Ross from the new BET show “Reed Between the Lines.” The funniest pairing of presenters was T.I. with basketball player Amare Stoudamire. The nearly 7-foot NBA star towered over the diminutive rapper/actor.
Other celebrities on hand included rappers Busta Rhymes, Wiz Khalifa, Nelly, Rick Ross, Wale, Roscoe Dash, Big Sean, Drumma Boy, DJ Khaled, DaBrat and LL Cool J, as well as singer Tyrese and El DeBarge and Philly’s own Charlie Mack.
Rap fans can look forward to dynamic performances by Wiz Khalifa, Wale, Meek Mill, Lupe Fiasco, Rick Ross, Roscoe Dash, and Big Sean. The legendary Heavy D capped off the show with a medley of the overweight lover's classic hits complete with the trendy dances of the ’90s. The old-school hip-hop veteran upstaged several young rappers’ with his litany of hit records and dynamic choreography.
Lupe Fiasco was accompanied by a live band — two guitars and a drummer — during his creative rap presentation.
A touching moment during the show was when LL Cool J received the I Am Hip Hop Icon Award and the rap pioneer's well-deserved standing ovation.
Compared to previous BET Hip Hop Awards in Atlanta, this year’s awards show was noticeably understated. There was no pre-awards show and the after-parties were all at nightclubs that were open to the general public. There were no lavish BET-sponsored or artist-sponsored private parties for the nominees, presenters and guests. Interscope-Geffen Records and T.I. were the only big-budget sponsored parties related to the BET Hip Hop Awards.
The 2011 BET Hip Hop Awards will air on Oct. 11 at 8 p.m.