Thursday, April 19, 2007

Can BET become an original programming powerhouse?

Reginald Hudlin knew that was his challenge when he took over as president of entertainment for BET. And, much to his credit, it looks like the answer may, someday, be yes.

At BET's upfront presentation Wednesday night, Hudlin (pictured) unveiled an ambitious slate of 16 new series that pack some real star power. And, though there's a lot of the same reality crap that pollutes the airwaves already, there's also some really promising stuff in the works.

One highlight is BET's first original sitcom, "Somebodies," adapted from the indie movie of the same name that premiered at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival. Written and directed by Hadjii, the 10 half-hour episodes, which premiere in the fall, will explore a group of University of Georgia graduates (huzzah!) who are trying to figure out what to do with their lives. I'll tune for at least a few of these to see what's up.

I have to say I've found Orlando Jones to be funny exactly once, when he played that magazine salesman in "Office Space," but his BET project could actually be cool. The show, "Bufu," will be an animated sketch-comedy half-hour created and voiced by Jones and Ali LeRoi ("Everybody Hates Chris."). Both of these premiere in the fall.

In two even more promising animated offerings, Vin Diesel will executive produce (Is Vin Diesel black? Oops, I digress) an animated series about Hannibal, due in 2008, and Will Smith's Overlook Entertainment will produce "Cipha," animated sci-fi series "set in a future world where hip-hop is outlawed ... to shut down the voices of youth," according to BET (sounds particularly timely to me.)

Sadly, D.L. Hughley's getting in to the reality game with "S.O.B.," kicking off in July. It's a reality show that'll "use hidden cameras to test the value systems of people," said Hudlin. One scene shows the reaction of the staff and patrons of a segregated restaurant when a black couple try to get served.

There's a lot more reality garbage (do you get the sense I have no time for the genre?), but there's also one more series that sounds promising. "Judge Mooney" will feature the extremely funny Paul Mooney in a sendup of those judge shows that somehow never die, a test of how funny he is now that he's a self-described "recovering n-word-aholic" (my money's on him succeeding.)

BET already turned a corner earlier this year when it began airing HBO's "The Wire," which I'm currently going back through and enjoying all over again. It's easily one of the best cop shows around, and it gave the network an instant injection of class. Here's hoping Mr. Hudlin can keep that train rolling.

New plan for Coen's "Men"

Apparently Tarantino and Rodriguez aren't the only two filmmakers who get whatever they want from the studios that back their flicks.

On the eve of the expected addition of the new Coen Bros. flick, "No Country for Old Men," to the Cannes lineup (the official roster comes out today), it was announced that Paramount Vantage and Miramax Films will change course and release the film in the U.S. in fall rather than in August, as originally planned (Miramix will handle the domestic run, while Paramount gets international.)

"The Coens felt strongly about going in the fall," explained Par Vantage president John Lesher, who had tried to talk the brothers into an August release along the lines of "The Constant Gardener." "These are great directors at the top of their game. It's a really good, muscular movie that works well with older men; it's violent and visceral. The fall is a long time to wait."

Well, I'm quickly becoming an older man who likes muscular movies, and I certainly can wait a few more months to see what the Coens do with this Cormac McCarthy noir Western.

Two quick moments of zen

With all apologies to Jon Stewart, here are two things I thought might make everyone laugh:

1. The director of the movie "Vacancy," which I will not be seeing, is apparently named Nimrod. Nimrod Antal, to be precise, but it just sounds so much better as simply Nimrod.

2. There's a sequel of sorts in the works to Stephen Chow's sublimely silly "Shaolin Soccer." Though Chow is involved as a producer, this will apparently be a Japanese movie, to be directed by Motohiro Katsuyuki and titled "Shorin Shojo" (roughly translated, "Shaolin Girl.") The lovely actress Shibasaki Ko (strictly as a public service, I've of course included her picture) will star as Rin, who returns to Japan after undergoing nine years of training in order to take over her grandfather’s Shaolin kung-fu dojo in China and ends up helping out a sport science university’s lacrosse team. Chow regulars Lam Tze Chung and Kai Man Tin are lined up to appear.

Shaolin lacrosse? Trust me, I couldn't make this stuff up.


Marina said...

I'm a bit confused. I thought BET had been a network?

Nimrod. I'm going to assume his parents didn't name him that.

Reel Fanatic said...

It is, Marina, so my headline is a bit misleading ... Up until recently, it offered scant original programming, which is why I labeled it as such ... In the capable hands of Hudlin, who directed the original "House Party" and other movies, that's clearly about to change

NickDean said...

Ha. Nimrod.

Mercurie said...

I have to wonder if BET has any new dramas in its line up? It seems to me that while there have been many African American sitcoms, there haven't been too many African American dramas (the fact is, I can't think of a one).

Reel Fanatic said...

That's a good question, Mercurie .. As of now, it looks like they're starting with the sitcom, animated series and reality shows, all of which would be easier to mount than a good dramatic series ... Hopefully that will come soon ... As for the bigger question, The closest thing I can think of would be Soul Food, but I have to admit I've never watched that show

Marina said...

OK. Got it now. I was thinking maybe I missed something! :)

Jonathan said...

I commend Mr. Hudlin for trying to branch out and let BET have a lot more to offer. However, the over reliance on reality television is annoying. This is a huge opportunity for BET to branch out and not just be an African American version of MTV and VHI which gives us reality television more than they do music videos nowadays. I mean if you can't beat them, join them, I guess, but I wish he would take a little more of a chance here. Look what bold moves have done for stations like F/X.

Reel Fanatic said...

I'm definitely with you there, Jonathan ... I keep hoping reality TV will die, but clearly not yet ... As for Hudlin, this is his first big slate of offerings, I think, so I'm hoping that the sitcom and animated fare do well enough for him to offer some compelling drama choices next year

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