BET Networks is loading up its 2016-17 slate with series and telepics that reflect an earthy view of African-American life, including a detective drama from John Singleton, a soap set in the world of Historically Black Colleges and Universities and a dramedy revolving around a criminal courts judge.
BET is stepping up its production of original scripted series for its mothership BET channel at a time when competition for its target audience has become fierce. “Rebel” revolves around a female police officer in Oakland, Calif., who becomes a private investigator after her brother is killed by police. “Benched,” created by Scott Brown, is a dramedy about a young judge who struggles to give up his bachelor lifestyle as he confronts the “underbelly” of the criminal justice system on a daily basis.
” ‘Benched’ and ‘Rebel’ will allow us to address issues that are very relevant and germane to our audience,” said Stephen Hill, BET Networks president of programming. “When we pick our shows we look at how we can best tell the stories of our audience. It’s important that the issue that are in our world are on our screen as well.”
Another priority for BET is a music-driven anthology series dubbed “Tales” that will offer hourlong narrative renditions of iconic hip-hop songs in a three-act structure as envisioned by various filmmakers. The project is shepherded by producer Irv Gotti Lorenzo and will air as a partnership with the music streaming service Tidal, which will offer episodes available for streaming via its apps. In some cases, Tidal will carry racier versions of the episodes, Hill said.
Among the songs planned for the “Tales” treatment is N.W.A’s “F— tha Police.” The plan is to work with the original artists and songwriters on the narrative adaptations. “Tales” is envisioned as airing several times a year as event programming.
Anika Noni Rose and Ruben Santiago-Hudson are set to lead the ensemble cast of “The Yard.” Rose plays the newly elected president of a fictional HBCU who encounters all manner of problems as she tries to wrangle an unruly freshman class. The collegiate setting will allow the show to reflect contemporary social issues and cultural trends,” Hill said. “HBCU’s are the cauldrons in which our culture is shaped,” he said. Felicia Henderson and Charles Holland created the series from a concept by Rob Hardy.
“Comedy Getdown” is a semi-scriptedhalf-hour series set behind the scenes of standup comedy tour led by George Lopez, DL Hughley, Cedric the Entertainer, Eddie Griffin and Charlie Murphy. Free 90 Media’s Tom Brunelle and Brad Wollack are exec producing with Michael Rotenberg, Greg Walter, Kimberly Carver and Eric C. Rhone.
Other high-profile bets for BET in the coming season are its New Edition biopic film — “It’s one of the biggest productions we’ve ever done,” Hill said — and the Nelson Mandela biopic “Madiba” toplined by Laurence Fishburne. “New Edition: The Movie” is filming now in Los Angeles for an early 2017 debut with two sets of actors playing the R&B group’s members at various stages. The cast includes “Empire’s” Bryshere Gray, Elijah Kelley, Luke James, Keith Powers, Algee Smith and Woody McClain.
“Competition makes you step up your game,” Hill said. “I’m proud of our slate. We are partnering with stars in front of and behind the camera.”