BET CEO Debra Lee Wants To Be Positive Without Being PBS

BET has long received criticism that its content is demeaning to its audience, particularly black women. Those critics have included prominent voices from Spike Lee and the network’s cofounder, Sheila Jackson. But the network’s new CEO, Debra Lee,  tells Forbes writer Jenna Goudreau that BET has a “new brand strategy: We respect, reflect and elevate our audience. They want to be entertained, but they also want to be inspired.”

One way Lee is making the network more palatable is through programming like BET Honors, an annual awards show that celebrates black achievement. Lee also mentions Black Girls Rock!, a special honoring “icons, moguls and sheroes” including Missy Elliot and Jill Scott. “I accept the responsibility,” Lee says. “Black women in particular don’t get to see themselves enough as role models. In terms of my own personal life and how I can give back, that’s one of the things I’m proudest of.”

Lee is doing something right when it comes to business, too: BET’s viewership is at an all-time high, thanks in part to original programming like The Game, a mega-popular scripted show about fictional professional athletes and the women in their lives. “It has to have a message, can’t be derogatory and has to show positive images,” she says of her programming standards. “That doesn’t mean that it’s unreal or fake. We’re not going to be the PBS of black television. We still have to get ratings.”



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