Top BET Programming Execs to Exit Viacom-Owned Cabler

BET programming president Stephen Hill and his top lieutenant are stepping down from the network, marking the latest transition in the management of Viacom-owned cablers.

Hill, an 18-year BET vet, announced his departure to staffers on Wednesday. BET also confirmed that exec VP and head of programming Zola Mashariki would exit along with Hill.

Connie Orlando, senior VP of specials, music programming and news, will head programming in the interim while BET searches for a successor for Hill.

The timing of Hill’s departure is surprising. BET on Tuesday launched a new drama series “Rebel” that had mostly favorable reviews (ratings were not immediately available on Wednesday) and traction in social media. In January, BET scored a big hit with its three-part miniseries “The New Edition Story.”

Hill has headed BET programming since September 2014. He joined BET in 1999 and moved up the ranks in various programming posts. He was the driving force behind BET’s music-related shows for years before taking the reins of all programming. Before BET, he spent four years as a programming exec at MTV. Last month at the Grammy Awards, Hill was caught on camera dancing during the tribute to Prince.

“His programming vision helped to create ‘106 & Park,’ The BET Awards, The Hip Hop Awards and hits such as ‘Real Husbands of Hollywood,’ the amazing success of ‘The New Edition Story’ and many, many more,” BET chairman-CEO Debra Lee said in a memo regarding Hill’s departure.

Mashariki came to BET in April 2015 from Fox Searchlight.

The shakeup at BET comes on the heels of executive shifts at Viacom’s MTV, VH1 and Comedy Central implemented by the new corporate regime at Viacom after Bob Bakish was named president-CEO in December. Paramount Pictures has also seen a changing of the guard with former 20th Century Fox head Jim Gianopulos replacing Brad Grey in the top job just this week.

In a memo to BET staffers, Hill said he was preparing to take some time off “to just be.” He declined an interview request.

Here is Hill’s full memo:

My first morning at BET was the day after Roger Troutman died. WKYS, WPGC and WHUR were all full with the music of Zapp and as I drove the car (that I still own) down New York Avenue in DC towards the BET Complex, I thought to myself “we’ll need to get the details and some footage quickly so that we can get something on the air today about Roger.”

Immediately after orientation, I began searching out the people that could make it possible. But it turns out it was not possible. Due to the shoot schedule for the video shows, the edit time, and the way that Master Control was set up, the quickest anything could be turned around was one week. It was unimaginable to folks there then that BET could react to anything in real time. Crestfallen, I slumped in my way-too-big chair and gazed out at the McDonald’s across the street from my NetOps office; determined that the paradigm shift.

Eighteen months later, we were live daily on BET and would stay that way for the next 14 years. What was previously unimaginable had been made real. This Friday, 6,549 days after I took my first step through the doors of BET, I will walk my last one out. It has been my honor to serve this brand in that span and I am thrilled to have been able to be a member of the teams that ideated and created so many spectacles, moments, memories and miracles. It’s been fulfilling to be part of huge changes that literally shifted culture.

As we go forward, I’m excited by all of our immediate and long term upcoming trajectories.

For you and BET, it’s the opportunities you will mine through your new designation: VIACOM made a wise choice making BET a “Flagship” brand. It’s been proven over and over again that viewers want BET to win and that they believe highly in your ability to do so. We saw that recently with the culture shifting New Edition Story when, with one series, pundits and social media were ablaze proclaiming BET as the best TV producers of biopics. Full Stop. Huh? “Best” after one attempt? Yes. That’s the feeling. That’s the energy of an audience rooting for you. That’s a populace hot for you. Your audience knows that other channels have to study the culture, but BET is the culture…and they respect the difference. I truly wish you the fuel of innovation, execution and support to feed those fire-flames. There is an abundance of talent at BET Networks; each person a spark that can start the blaze of the next success; to again take what is currently unimaginable and set on a path to make it real. It has been my immeasurable joy to work alongside you.

As for me, since I was 16, I haven’t had many workdays of not getting up, getting into it and getting involved. ‘Tis a truly foreign concept. I talk about “time”…well, all of the time ( at least twice a year on email); about its value and to consider how you use time…as a friend or a foe. Right now, I’m choosing friend. I’ma throw my arms around it like I would a long lost buddy and enjoy a bit of what it might offer. I am truly looking forward to some time to just be. There’s much in this world I haven’t experienced that I soon will.

And then, I’ll re-approach the side of the action, sway to and fro while catching the rhythm and jump back into the fast-paced double-dutch of life. However, these same feet that will one day return to churning in time with the ropes will now, for a few moments, have their individual digits sifting sand…not unlike another former President. Check the IG in a little while. Previously unimaginable. About to be wonderfully real.

Thank you Debra Lee for pretty much everything since the day you saw me in the red pants. Your leadership, tenacity, dedication…and style…are appreciated. Your investment in me and support of me from the very beginning has been strong and constant. I treasure it and will pay it forward.

I will miss you all. I will miss this. I will miss us. But I am so excited to see where you next take this powerful, agile, thrusting spacecraft of a brand.

Imagine it and drive well.

sgh

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