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BET throws a ‘family reunion’

BET will try to beat their own record on Sunday

The team behind Sunday’s 10th annual BET Awards has a high-class problem: Topping last year’s record-setting performance for the kudocast that will again air live from L.A.’s Shrine Auditorium.

Last year’s event had strong advance buzz for a tragic reason, as it came just three days after the June 25 death of Michael Jackson. Janet Jackson’s heartfelt address to her brother’s fans during the telecast was among the TV highlights of the year. The telecast drew 10.7 million viewers, ranking as the most-watched telecast in BET’s 30-year-history and the highest-rated kudocast on cable last year.

In prepping for Sunday’s show, producers say they’re focused on delivering a few jaw-dropping moments with an event that has always been part awards show and part family reunion.

“We have fortunately built a franchise where artists want to come and show off, and bring their best stuff,” says Stephen Hill, prexy of music programing and specials for BET Networks and an exec producer of the awards. If the aud isn’t dancing in the aisles, something is wrong, says Hill.

“A lot of other awards shows show people in suits in the front row who are very measured in their response to what’s happening on stage. With our audience, ‘measured response’ is just not in their vocabulary,” Hill says.

Queen Latifah is on board for her first time as host. John Legend will receive the Humanitarian Award for his work in Africa and in promoting education at home. Prince will lend his royal presence to receive the Lifetime Achievement laurel. And there will be a lot of eyes on Kanye West’s first major public perf since his scuffle with Taylor Swift at MTV’s VMAs in 2009.

Among other highlights, there will be a moment of “musical prayer” to remind viewers of the ongoing need in Haiti, and a carefully planned “tip of the fedora to Michael Jackson,” Hill promises.

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