BET Networks chair Debra L. Lee was the marquee honoree at Saturday night's pre-Grammy gala, but the starry Clive Davis-hosted event ended up being just as much a tribute to Joni Mitchell, who made one of her first public appearances since suffering a brain aneurysm in 2015.Previously a reliable presence on the outdoor patio at the annual Beverly Hilton soirée, the wheelchair-bound Mitchell chatted with a procession of well-wishers from the back of the ballroom, and received a lengthy ovation when event...
Debra Lee consistently ranks in lists of the most powerful women in the entertainment industry. In her long tenure at BET (since 1986), she moved up the ranks from vice president and general counsel to president and COO before taking on her current position as chairman and CEO in 1996. She’s played a key role in re-defining and re-energizing the company’s overall brand by focusing on BET and sister network Centric’s core audiences and issues that are important to them: family, aspiration, black culture, and entertainment.
From “BET Honors” to “Black Girls Rock!” and a host of original comedies, dramas, TV movies and specials, the optimistic vibe Lee cultivated has increased both ratings and revenue. Partially in response to the #OscarsSoWhite movement, the network recently partnered with the American Black Film Festival on ABFF Encore, making film and television part of what was once the network’s annual music-centered awards weekend.
Under her guidance, BET’s programming made big gains with hit shows like “The Game,” “Being Mary Jane,” and off-net airings of “Scandal.” But Lee also oversaw brand expansion and distribution into Canada, the Caribbean, the United Kingdom, and even the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa.