CHICAGO (thefutoncritic.com) -- The Television Critics Association began its winter press tour this week in which the various broadcast and cable networks talk about their upcoming plans to the nation's top critics and entertainment reporters.
Here's a breakdown of the highlights of BET's presentation (via press release):
BET Shines Bright With Black History Month Programming
Network to Highlight the Legacy of African-American Heritage with Movies, Specials; Superstar Janet Jackson Featured in Series of Black History-Themed Vignettes
BET will shine brighter than ever during Black History Month when the 24-year-old network televises its diverse February programming slate. Intended to spotlight African-American history and "pass on" the enduring power of Black achievement, the comprehensive month-long line-up features three core offerings: the BET network debut of a made-for-television movie chronicling the pioneering career of famed entertainer Little Richard; "Celebration of Gospel IV," BET's annual star- studded gospel music concert special hosted by actor/comedian Steve Harvey; and historically-themed programming such as The Forts & Castles of Ghana special.
The BET Jazz Sunday Brunch series will celebrate the resilience of the African American spirit in The Long Road to Freedom hosted by Harry Belafonte; highlight the brilliance and diversity found in Black musical expression during Journey with Jazz at Lincoln Center: Danville, Kentucky, and Freddie Jackson: Celebrating 20 Years In Music; and feature other concert specials. BET Nightly News will produce Black History Month-themed coverage and special reports throughout the month.
"As the leading television network providing programming for African- Americans, it is vital that BET continue to showcase the contributions of our culture in a significant way," said Debra Lee, BET President and Chief Operating Officer. "For more than two decades, we have been committed to 'passing on' the legacy of Black history -- not only in February, but all year long."
In addition, BET's Creative Services department is creating a series of vignettes and spots themed "History: Pass It On," highlighting various historical milestones. Featuring superstar Janet Jackson and everyday citizens, the vignettes will air throughout the month of February on BET. The series of spots were also produced in conjunction with after-school student program Digital Clubhouse.
Following is a summary of planned BET 2004 Black History Month programming:
LITTLE RICHARD (Monday, 2/16 at 8:00 PM ET/PT): A revealing film depiction of Little Richard's life story, this movie follows the legendary rock icon throughout the major milestones of his personal history: from his poor Southern upbringing and trials and tribulations of being a black singer in the 50's, to his born-again phase and brief "retirement" from rock and roll. Starring Leon, Jennifer Lewis, Tamala Jones and Carl Lumbly.
SPECIAL DOCUMENTARY PROGRAMMING
THE FORTS & CASTLES OF GHANA (Sunday, 2/22 at 1:00 PM ET/PT): Explore the beauty and splendor that is Ghana. This special focuses on the Forts & Castles of Ghana which were the epicenter of the Slave Trade, the country's history and culture and treasured ecosystem. This is a fascinating look at an extremely painful time in our history, but it all comes together with beautiful footage of Ghana today.
TUESDAY NIGHT SPECIALS
CELEBRATION OF GOSPEL IV (Tuesday, 2/24 at 9:00PM ET/PT): BET celebrates the spiritually uplifting art form of gospel music with a program dedicated to its legends and stars of the future. Helmed by returning host Steve Harvey, this spectacular event includes performances of the foot stomping, hand clapping gospel music that's so popular today. Featured performers include Ce Ce Winans, Yolanda Adams, Fred Hammond, Donnie McClurkin, Pastor Shirley Caesar, Vickie Winans and more.
J&R MUSIC Presents: Grady Tate (Sunday, 2/1 at 1:00 PM ET/PT): This hour-long special celebrates the career of jazz vocalist/drummer Grady Tate. Tate discusses his career and his latest release, entitled "All Love."
The Long Road to Freedom hosted by Harry Belafonte (Sunday, 2/8 at 1:00 PM ET/PT): Discover the musical treasure of Harry Belafonte's "Anthology of Black Music." This special features performances, Civil Rights archival footage and 10 years of recordings - join legendary producer/vocalist Harry Belafonte for an interview about this Award-winning piece of history.
JOURNEY WITH JAZZ AT LINCOLN CENTER: DANVILLE, KENTUCKY (Sunday, 2/15 at 1:00 PM ET/PT): Enjoy the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis as they bring America's music to the heartland. This enthralling concert performed to a packed audience in Danville, Kentucky at the fabulous Norton Center at Centre College, is an intriguing mixture of jazz standards and songs soon to be labeled such from a renowned virtuoso.
Freddie Jackson: Celebrating 20 Years In Music (Sunday, 2/29 at 1:00 PM ET/PT): 2004 marks the 20th year in the music industry for Freddie Jackson. Join him as he takes a walk down memory lane, looking back at his early music videos - from the 80's with "Rock Me Tonight" and "You Are My Lady," to his new CD release "Its Your Move."
BET Delivers Dose of 'Real' to Reality TV Genre with College Hill, Television's First-Ever Black Dramatic Series
Ultimate Look at Black College Life with Eight Co-Eds at Southern University Debuts January 28
Here's an equation to ponder: 8 students + 1 Roof = 2 Much Drama. Even a "mad scientist" might shy away from that volatile formula. But that's exactly what BET has concocted with eight college co-eds; a popular Black college campus in the hot Louisiana sun; challenging class work; a slamming party scene; and 24/7 surveillance by the network's television cameras. Is it dangerous? Maybe. Is it provocative? Absolutely. It's COLLEGE HILL, a new 13-episode series premiering Wednesday, January 28 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on BET -- television's first-ever Black dramatic reality show.
"There is college life, and then there's Black college life. And those who have been around historically Black colleges and universities know there are social, cultural and attitudinal differences from the more mainstream institutions," said Stephen Hill, BET Senior Vice President of Music Programming and Talent. "What we're capturing in COLLEGE HILL is a one-of-a- kind look at college life through eight very diverse and interesting co-eds. Our BET cameras will capture the ups, downs, tears, joys, successes and failures as these young people become adults and pursue higher learning at the same time."
Edmonds Entertainment Group, famed producers of the award-winning drama SOUL FOOD, produced the new COLLEGE HILL series for BET. Tracey Edmonds, President and CEO of Edmonds Entertainment and executive producer for COLLEGE HILL, sees the show as much more than just cameras following college students around campus.
"To legitimize a reality series, you must afford the cast every opportunity to be themselves, to be absolutely real with their daily lives and issues. That's exactly what we've done with these eight students at Southern," said Edmonds. "There are some hysterically funny parts of this series, and there are some areas that are deep, troubling and sometimes a little painful. But that's what reality television should portray -- real emotion, real situations and real people."
BET will supplement the launch of COLLEGE HILL with a special 13-week "Watch and Win Scholarship Sweepstakes," giving away more than $25,000 in scholarship money to either college-bound or college-enrolled students. During each COLLEGE HILL episode, an on-screen password will appear. Students can then log on to http://www.bet.com/collegehill and enter the sweepstakes. There will be 13 winners -- one chosen following every new episode -- with each lucky student receiving a $2,004 scholarship check. Supporting the overall show launch and sweepstakes will be a substantial multi-media advertising campaign leveraging radio ads in 14 major markets; ads in the campus newspapers of 38 historically Black colleges and universities; and various outdoor billboard, bus shelter and mall displays.
The COLLEGE HILL cast members aren't household names -- just yet. But by the time the series concludes, each will have left indelible marks on the show, and maybe on each other. Comprising the cast will be (listed only by first names; hometown in parenthesis):
Nina (Shreveport, Louisiana); Senior - Marketing Major
Profile: The cheerleader and diva of the group; competes in pageants; sophisticated attitude; socialite
Kevin (Los Angeles); Junior - Sociology Major
Profile: Jock and ladies man; college football and women are all that matter; has a lazy streak
Delano (Los Angeles); Senior - Mass Communications Major
Profile: Rapper/aspiring actor; charmer; class clown; still dealing with recent death of his mother
Shalondrea (Shreveport, Louisiana); Sophomore - Elementary Education Major
Profile: Country girl at heart; instigator and trouble-maker; has a "not- so-secret" secret to deal with
Kinda (Baton Rouge, Louisiana); Freshman - Undecided Major
Profile: "Wild Child" of the cast; men get their "freak" on - why can't she?; daughter of a school administrator
Gabriel (Dallas); Senior - Biology/Pre-Med Major
Profile: School band and fraternity member; "Big Man" on campus; smooth operator with an ulterior motive
Veronica (Houston); Sophomore - Marketing Major
Profile: Rich girl and spoiled rotten; another diva for the group to deal with; beautiful and she knows it
Jabari (Chicago); Junior - Computer Science Major
Profile: An academic genius, literally; has a "nerds-are-us" look; video games and dancing are a high priority
Edmonds Entertainment and BET sought diversity in tabbing the eight cast members, something that Edmonds thinks will keep the show and its plot intriguing from week to week.
"The diversity of the cast and some pretty outrageous twists in how they relate to each other gives this show a different level of reality," said Edmonds. "At times, the whole scene is amusing. But there will be other times when life under this roof will be a real cause for concern. I think BET has a prime time hit on its hands."