BET President Resigns

By Teresa Wiltz and Paul Farhi
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, September 12, 2008

Reginald Hudlin, a Hollywood veteran who was brought to Washington-based Black Entertainment Television three years ago to overhaul programming, is leaving the embattled network, BET announced yesterday.

Debra Lee, BET's chief executive officer, said Hudlin's resignation as president of entertainment was "a mutual decision."

Although she would not cite specifics for Hudlin's resignation, Lee said: "I think Reggie had accomplished everything I asked him to do three years ago: to create original programming and to get a development pipeline going. He brought a new sensibility to the company. He had a lot of success. . . . It just seemed like a good time" for him to leave.

Under Hudlin's stewardship, the network, which reaches 90 million households, enjoyed some success with reality-based programming, including "Lil' Kim: Countdown to Lockdown," "American Gangster," "Baldwin Hills" and "Keyshia Cole: The Way It Is." But under Hudlin, viewership had declined. And Tuesday, the network debuted "Somebodies," an original sitcom about college slackers in Athens, Ga.

During his tenure, however, BET's viewership had declined significantly. Average household daily viewership, for instance, dropped from 353,000 in 2006 to 316,000 in 2007, according to the media research company SNL Kagan.

The 29-year-old network also has long come under fire for its music videos. Detractors have charged that BET videos perpetuated racial stereotypes of African Americans and demeaned women. Before joining BET, Hudlin was a vocal critic of its programming; as programming chief, however, he vigorously defended the schedule -- even as he pledged to dramatically alter the lineup with original scripted shows.

Early last year, BET announced projects for several scripted shows, but only "Somebodies" has aired.

Last spring, Delman Coates, a Prince George's County pastor with the campaign "Enough Is Enough" -- working with the Parents Television Council and onetime BET video programmer Paul Porter of Industry Ears -- released a study analyzing adult content on two BET video shows that are marketed to children, according to the campaign. Among the study's conclusions: In March, on the shows cited, there was one instance of adult content -- defined as references to drugs, sex or violence -- every 38 seconds.

"What we have sought is change of content on the network, not just change in the characters who run the network," Coates said yesterday in an interview. "If Mr. Hudlin's replacements do not bring a perspective that is different from Mr. Hudlin, we will continue to get more of the same."

"Reggie Hudlin is simply the fall guy for a network that's treading water," Porter said.

Lee praised Hudlin in a memo sent to employees yesterday. "From the moment he joined the BET family, Reggie infused our program development with incredible creativity energy and passion," she wrote.

"He just wanted to get back to his roots. . . ," Lee said by phone. "He's always been interested in movies." Hudlin directed '90s big-screen classics "House Party" and "Boomerang."

Hudlin declined to comment yesterday.

It isn't clear when Hudlin will leave the network. BET spokeswoman Jeanine Liburd said Hudlin will finish up some unspecified projects and will depart sometime over the next few weeks. Stephen Hill, BET's executive vice president of music programming & Talent, will serve as interim president of entertainment.

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