NEW YORK — BET, the Viacom-owned cable network aimed at young black viewers, has hired director-writer Reginald Hudlin to help it produce more original shows. He’ll take the new post of president of entertainment.
Hudlin said Debra L. Lee, BET president-CEO, pursued him because “she wanted a vision person, someone with deep roots in the Hollywood community and with a good Rolodex.”
Hudlin, 43, is an unusual choice for what looks on the surface like a job more suited to someone who has spent his career rising up the exec ladder of a showbiz company. Hudlin has directed — among many movies and TV series — two “House Party” theatricals, the Eddie Murphy vehicle “Boomerang,” “The Great White Hype” and episodes of Fox’s “The Bernie Mac Show.”
He also helmed the pilot of fall UPN series “Everybody Hates Chris,” which was one of the best-received comedies shown at a broadcast upfront.
Hudlin said one of the hardest decisions he had to make in accepting the BET job was turning down Chris Rock’s offer to be one of the producers of “Everybody Hates Chris.”
Hudlin is taking over the programming of one of the most financially successful cable networks in the U.S. BET totaled cash flow of $182.1 million in 2004, a figure that’s expected to climb to $205.6 million this year, according to Kagan Research.
BET spent a relatively modest $66.4 million on original and acquired programming last year. Hudlin expects to get a more generous production budget from Viacom, “although we’re not going to make our version of ‘Rome’ any time soon,” referring to the expensive HBO limited series that bows next month.
Recent Nielsen ratings indicate Hudlin’s work is cut out for him. For second-quarter 2005, BET has dipped by 9% in total viewers, 13% in its target audience of 18-34, 17% in 18-49 and 16% in 25-54.
Hudlin said he wants to broaden the reach of BET beyond the black audience. “Just go to any hip-hop concert featuring Snoop (Dogg) or Nelly,” Hudlin said, “and you’ll find that 40%-60% of the audience is white, and they know all the words. The new generation doesn’t have the racial hang-ups of older generations.”
“Urban” and “cutting-edge” are two terms for the programming Hudlin plans to incorporate into the shows BET develops under his stewardship.
After only a few days on the job, he said, “I’m already putting shows into development. I’m not pussyfooting around.”