BET, one of Viacom's six core networks as part of the conglomerate's rejuvenation, is taking some big swings with its upfront slate.
On the scripted side, the African-American-targeted cable network has handed out a straight-to-series order for Kevin Hart-produced comedy Divorce Saved My Marriage; renewed drama The Quad for a second season; and added VH1's The Breaks and Hit the Floor, with the latter duo picked up for their second and fourth seasons, respectively.
Additionally, following the ratings and critical success of its New Edition entry, BET has picked up miniseries focusing on Bobby Brown and Death Row Records and set two Lip Sync Battle specials produced specifically around the BET Hip Hop Awards and Soul Train Awards.
On the unscripted side, the cabler has ordered a late-night talker from executive producer Steve Harvey; a Wanda Sykes game show; dating entry Love Room; and a variety/sketch show hosted by 50 Cent. (The latter was previously set up at A&E last year.) These join the previously announced late-night Robin Thede-hosted/Chris Rock-produced late-night satire talk show The Rundown.
The ambitious slate comes as BET currently ranks as the No. 1 cable network for African-American viewers among the key adults 18-49 demographic for the 16th consecutive year. The slate is part of Viacom's push to reinvigorate the company by focusing on six key networks - BET, Paramount Network, MTV, Nickelodeon, Nick Jr. and Comedy Central - and as the cabler is refining its focus to showcase the power of black culture.
As part of the shift, BET sibling network Centric will be rebranded as BET Her, with an emphasis on music, culture, travel and lifestyle. BET Her, which will launch Oct. 1, is being billed as the only network to focus on African-American women 24 hours a day.
"Over the last 37 years, BET has cultivated a deep and lasting relationship with our viewers, as we remain the premiere destination for lovers of African-American culture," BET CEO Debra Lee said Thursday in a statement. "This year, we are saying yes to all things black, with more premium original programming and best-in-class tentpoles that reflect and invigorate our viewers."
The decision to move scripted dramas The Breaks and Hit the Floor from VH1 to BET leaves the former with only one scripted series (the forthcoming Daytime Divas) as Viacom continues to shuffle the decks. VH1 kicked the shuffling off when RuPaul's Drag Race moved from Logo to VH1; Heathers and American Woman - both developed at TV Land - moved to Paramount Network when the former Spike TV is rebranded in January.
"The Breaks and Hit the Floor are great shows with incredible teams behind them, and we're happy their passionate fans will get more of them through their new home at BET. At VH1, we have no plans of slowing down as we launch our newest scripted series starring Vanessa Williams on June 5," a VH1 spokesperson said in a statement about the future of scripted at the network.
Here's a closer look at BET's slate:
Divorce Saved My Marriage
From exec producer Kevin Hart, the 30-minute scripted dramedy is based on the stand-up of David A. Arnold. When a couple realizes that divorce is the only thing they can agree on, their attorney recommends a financial plan instead of a court date - forcing them to work together so they can finally afford to be apart. Created/executive produced by Devon K. Shepard and David A. Arnold, with Hart and Dave Becky serving as executive producers. (10 episodes)
A no-holds-barred conversation among five men brave enough to be honest and vulnerable, as they laugh it up and get serious about hot-button topics. Hosted by journalist Jeff Johnson and featuring actors, athletes and comedians, among others, the topical weekly event series brings together African-American men with wildly diverse opinions to dissect current hot topics in entertainment, politics, news and beyond. Through humor, genuine emotion and heated debate, the panel will discuss their own opinions and experiences, while revealing what it's really like to navigate the world as an African-American man. Created by Johnson and produced by Truly Original and East 112th Street Productions. Johnson exec produces alongside Truly Original's Steven Weinstock, Glenda Hersh and Bryan Hale as well as Steve Harvey and Gerald Washington for 112th Street Productions. (12 episodes)
From Push It Productions and exec producer Wanda Sykes, the game show will answer the age-old question, "Can you judge a book by its cover?" The series flips the script to award cash and prizes for correctly guessing facts about strangers from all walks of life - based solely on their appearance and a few personal details. Hosted by Deon Cole (Black-ish), the series will break down stereotypes, expose prejudices and celebrate the human spirit by highlighting the commonalities and differences among people of various backgrounds, races, religions, beliefs and life experiences. Push It Productions' Sykes and Page Hurwitz exec produce alongside Lance Crouther. (24 episodes)
Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson hosts BET's first variety comedy showcase. The series will feature sketches, hidden-camera pranks, musical performances and A-list celebrity guests to create the ultimate late-night party - all handpicked and hosted by 50 Cent. Produced by G-Unit Film & Television in partnership with Back Roads Entertainment with Jackson, Stephen J. Savva, Colby Gaines and Riley Robbins serving as exec producers and Michael A. Blum serving as co-exec producer. (24 episodes)
The show is described as a daring social experiment that unites individuals who have almost given up on finding a relationship and falling in love. Two single strangers will meet and live together for a week to see if a relationship blossoms. Produced by Eastern's (VH1's Love & Hip Hop franchise) Toby Barraud, Stefan Springman, Mala Chapple, Carmen Mitcho and Sean David Johnson. (10 episodes)
The Bobby Brown Story
From the team behind The New Edition Story, this two-night, four-hour biopic spans Brown's career as a founding member of New Edition to a successful solo run. Written by Abdul Williams (The New Edition Story) and executive produced by Jesse Collins (The New Edition Story) for JCE Films, a division of Jesse Collins Entertainment.
Death Row Chronicles
The six-hour docuseries explores the world's most dangerous record label. While Death Row Records boasted the success of Snoop Dogg, 2Pac and Dr. Dre, the chart-topping and record-breaking sales came at a bloody and controversial cost. Part true-crime murder mystery and part hip-hop drama, this docuseries will uncover evidence and witnesses who will reveal the truth about the bitter rivalries surrounding its legends while celebrating the groundbreaking music pegged to the label's 25th anniversary. Produced by Entertainment One and Creature Films.
The show ranks as Wednesday's No. 1 new cable series among African-American viewers 18-34. It stars Anika Noni Rose in a drama about culture and relationships at historically black colleges and universities. The series is created and executive produced by Felicia Henderson and Charles Holland, and developed by Rob Hardy who also serves as exec producer. Mitzi Miller serves as co-exec producer. (10 episodes)
Developed from the movie of the same name, season one of the series aired on VH1 and will return for its sophomore season on BET. The drama takes on the origins of hip-hop and is based on Dan Charnas' book The Big Payback: The History of the Business of Hip-Hop. The cast includes Afton Willamson, Wood Harris, Mack Wilds, Antoine Harris, David Call, Evan Handler, Melonie Diaz, Sinqua Walls, Ali Ahn and Gloria Reuben.
Hit the Floor
More than a year after season three of the series wrapped its run on VH1, the cheerleading drama returns for season four on BET.