BET boss Debra Lee was toasted and roasted Tuesday at the Center for Communications’ gallows-humored annual luncheon at the Pierre Hotel.
Lee is the 25th winner of the center’s Frank Stanton Award, which recognizes standouts in the media biz.
While not as edgy as last week’s Matt Lauer roast, the event certainly wasn’t done straight. And Lee herself got off some of the best lines.
“When I was first asked to receive this honor, I thought, Oh my God, isn’t that the last thing Tom Freston heard before Sumner Redstone asked him to lunch?” Freston did get the Stanton prize in 2006, not long after he was fired as Viacom’s chief exec.
Redstone came in for some ribbing from Time Warner chairman Richard Parsons. “We’re passing the hat today for the big National Amusements refinancing,” he quipped.
Taking off on BET’s pickup of “The Wire,” Parsons ran through a list of shows that he proposed could make a similar transition. HBO’s “Entourage” would become “Posse,” “Lord of the Rings” turns into “Lord of the Bling,” and so on.
Viacom chief exec Philippe Dauman filled out a mock- performance evaluation for Lee, sending up the HR ritual by filling in her 2008 goals with lines like “capture Osama bin Laden.” He added, “Your whole team is counting on that happening so that they get a bonus this year.”
Lee acknowledged the grim economy in her acceptance, noting, “If you want to know how bad things got at Lehman Brothers, just ask your server.”
On a more serious note, she mentioned joining Katherine Graham as one of two women to earn the award but facetiously highlighted another bit of context for her award. “When Barack Obama gets elected, it’s not only going to be the first black president. It’s going to be the end of white presidents forever. Because you know what they say, once you go black …”