Spinoff to focus on music, entertainment

BET is making a tonal shift with its programming and launching an offshoot channel catering to an older African-American demographic.

BET chief Debra Lee cited the election of President Obama as providing “the perfect time for BET Networks to re-examine where we are as a company and what we can be for our audience” in announcing the initiatives Thursday at the cabler’s upfront event at Gotham’s Nokia Theater.

BET has in the past faced strong criticism for programming that some viewed as low-quality and aimed at the lowest-common denominator among younger black viewers. Lee told the assembled advertisers that BET’s “reinvigorated approach is built on supporting families, embracing and encouraging their dreams, focusing on the issues that are important to them and presenting the freshest talent and entertainment.”

The new channel, set to launch in 45 million cable homes by year’s end, is dubbed Centric. It will be built around music and entertainment programming for a slightly older aud than the 18-49-year-olds targeted by BET.

Skeins set to bow on Centric include “Keeping Up with the Joneses,” following high society in Houston; “Model City,” following the lives of male models in Gotham; “Real Life Divas,” a bio series on music stars; and “Urban Livin’”, an interior design and home makeover series hosted by Helen Bailey.

BET’s new slate of shows includes a reality skein revolving around thesp Terry Crews (“Everybody Hates Chris”) and his family; a talker hosted by thesp Mo’Nique; “First In,” a docu drama following emergency response crews; and gameshow “Pay It Off,” which allows contestants a chance to pay off their bills.

BET also continues to beef up its news programming. Cabler’s plans for the 2009-10 season include multi-part docu series about endemic urban woes (“Heart of the City”), decision-making within government and civic institutions (“The Bottom Line”), and a look at the trends and issues that have shaped the contempo black community (“In Depth”).

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