Lott Interview Swells BET Audience; 3 News Shows Face Cancellation

AP Wire Service

LOS ANGELES (AP) – A Black Entertainment Television interview with Sen. Trent Lott drew 830,000 viewers, nearly doubling the channel’s usual audience for the time slot.

Lott, under fire for comments made at Sen. Strom Thurmond’s 100th birthday party, talked with BET’s Ed Gordon Monday at 8:30 p.m. EST.

The Mississippi Republican, speaking to BET’s largely black audience, again apologized for praising Thurmond’s 1948 segregationist presidential candidacy.

The special program, “Conversation with Ed Gordon,” drew attention to BET’s recently announced decision to cancel three of its news and public affairs shows, including one featuring Gordon.

As part of BET’s overhaul, “BET Tonight With Ed Gordon” and “Lead Story” will end in December, with “Teen Summit” concluding in spring.

Gordon’s role at the channel is under discussion, BET spokesman Michael Lewellen said Tuesday. He said BET will continue to provide news coverage and analysis through its nightly newscast and specials.

BET has been criticized in the past for giving viewers more flash – in the form of music programming – than substance. Its news-oriented shows are among the few on national TV directed at a black audience.

Financial considerations led to the cancellation of the news shows, Debra Lee, BET’s president and chief operating officer, told The Washington Post.

“We couldn’t find enough advertisers to support them and cover our costs,” Lee said.

The shows’ ratings weren’t up to those of other BET shows and the programs were losing up to $4 million annually, she said.

Lee told the newspaper the programming change was made by BET and not by media conglomerate Viacom Inc., which bought BET and its parent company two years ago.