Debra Lee Debra Lee
Getty Images

Debra Lee Steps Down As CEO Of BET

Lee's last day with the cable network will be May 28. 

BET is losing its longtime champion.

Debra Lee is stepping down from her post as CEO and chairman at the Viacom-owned cable network. Lee's last day at the company will be Monday, May 28. The news comes after Lee ceded day-to-day oversight of the African-American-focused cable network in December, with Scott M. Mills taking over as president. She is not being replaced.

Lee, who first joined BET in 1986 as its first in-house counsel, built BET to become the top African-American brand, as the cabler is in more than 60 countries and reaches 125 million households.

"Debra’s vision and creativity have cemented BET Networks as a premier network for African-Americans and lovers of black culture," Viacom CEO Bob Bakish said in a statement announcing the news Thursday. "As BET continues to move forward, we will always be grateful to Debra for her leadership and commitment to creating top-notch entertainment that both entertains and empowers. Her passion for the BET brand has resulted in countless wins and has allowed BET to stay competitive in a growing media landscape. While we will all miss Debra tremendously, we respect her decision and understand her desire to leave at the very top of the game with a legacy of significant contributions that spans decades. I have seen firsthand how the network has grown under her direction, and I know that she will bring that same innovative thinking and strategic vision to her future pursuits. Debra has groomed an amazing group of senior executives, and I am confident that BET Networks will continue to flourish under their leadership.

"The news of Lee's depature comes as Bakish has taken a strong hand to the Viacom portfolio, making major executive changes at each of the key brands and placing new executives at the top of key networks that include MTV/VH1, Comedy Central, Nickelodeon and now BET.

BET last year shuttered its longtime and original home in Washington, D.C., and moved its headquarters to New York with Lee relocating to Los Angeles. Bakish also installed Michael D. Armstrong as general manager, replacing president Stephen Hill who was subsequently replaced by Mills. When Mills was installed in December, Lee retained her role as chairman and CEO and was to focus on BET's relationship with key external stakeholders and serve as an adviser to Mills.

Mills set his first upfront slate earlier this year, telling The Hollywood Reporter that his No. 1 priority was to meet and bring top talent back to BET. The Viacom-owned cabler has seen many top stars and producers flock to deep-pocketed outlets like Netflix as the push for more inclusive programming has exploded. Mills had been serving as exec vp and chief administrative officer for Viacom, where he oversaw human resources, real estate, facilities and security.

For her part, Lee has been the face of  BET for three decades. She was promoted to president and chief operating officer in 1996 and added chairman and CEO to her résumé in 2005. The executive ushered BET into the scripted space with The Game and programming that highlights the black experience, including Being Mary Jane, The Real Husbands of Hollywood and, more recently, In Contempt. During her tenure, BET has remained the No. 1 network among black viewers for the past 17 years.

Lee next plans to focus on corporate and nonprofit boards and her work with the Time's Up movement as well as the Recording Academy's diversity and inclusion task force, among others. (Read her full statement, below.)

With Lee's departure, Bakish — who has remained committed to reinvigorating Viacom and its cablers — has now replaced the top executive at each of his network: Brian Philips was pushed out at CMT following a 16-year run; Chris McCarthy became MTV's third president in as may years when he replaced Sean Atkins. Kevin Kay oversaw the rebranding of Spike TV into Viacom's general entertainment hub Paramount Network (forcing Sharon Levy out); and Kent Alterman replaced Michele Ganeless at the helm of Comedy Central (though the latter was before Bakish came in). Most recently, Sarah Levy added oversight of Nickelodeon and BET to her role as COO. Cyma Zarghami, Nickelodeon's longtime president and a 32-year veteran at the kids-focused network, is nearing the end of her contract and has seen her role reduced in recent years.

Here's Lee's statement:

In 1986 I joined BET Networks to be its very first in-house counsel. As a young corporate attorney I saw my role as the protector of the BET brand and its employees and today, more than 32 years later, I still see myself as the protector and defender of a brand that I have helped to grow as a top destination for audiences across the globe. I have called BET Networks home for over three decades and this team is part of my extended family.

In addition to the legacy I have built for BET Networks in the media landscape, I am also extremely proud of the legacy of values that I helped to instill at the network during my tenure. My belief that we can do well and do good has been a guiding principle and one that I hope you will continue after my departure. Together, we have built a world-class brand that connects with fans through the power of storytelling and we have attracted and nurtured top talent across the globe.

I feel a tremendous amount of gratitude to our parent company, Viacom, for their continued belief in the power of the BET brand and their unwavering support of my long and fulfilling career here. I would especially like to thank Bob Bakish for supporting me as I start the next chapter in this exciting journey.

I could not be prouder of the enormous amount of talent and creativity at BET Networks today and I will always be BET’s number one fan, rooting for each and every one of you as you continue to break barriers and share your authenticity with the world. I leave with pride, gratitude, and joy for a life-changing professional and personal journey. Continue to do it "for the culture" and much success to you all. You deserve it.

This article was originally published by The Hollywood Reporter.

From the Web

More on Vibe

Earl Gibson III/Getty Images

The Game Reboot Lands At Paramount+ Streaming Service

A revival of the BET’s The Game is officially in development under the ViacomCBS digital subscription streaming service Paramount+, which was originally branded as CBS All Access.

The series reboot was announced on Tuesday (Sept. 15), along with a list of original and rebooted shows headed for the streaming outlet which includes a limited series chronicling the making of The Godfather, a new edition of VH1’s Behind the Music, and the true crime docuseries, The Real Criminal Minds. The programming will join CBS All Access’ list of more than 20,000 episodes and movies across BET, MTV, CBS, Comedy Central, Paramount Pictures, Nickelodeon, and more.

Although no details have been released about The Game revival, the series will fall under BET’s Paramount+ programming from CBS Television Studios and Garment Productions. It’s unclear if any of the show's original cast members like, Tia Mowry, Pooch Hall, and Wendy Raquel Robinson, will be involved in the new installment.

The hit sports series was created by Mara Brock Akil, as a spinoff of her other hit sitcom, Girlfriends. Akil recently inked an overall deal with Netflix to develop new projects for the streamer. The company also acquired the rights to Girlfriends, Sister, Sister, Moesha, and The Parkers.

Continue Reading
Getty Images

50 Cent Developing Starz Series About Beef With The Game

Add a couple more credits to 50 Cent’s long list of TV projects. The rapper-turned-TV-producer inked a deal to develop two new series for Starz, one of which will explore his feud with The Game, the cable network announced on Monday (Sept. 14).

The seasonal anthology series tentatively titled, Moment in Time: The Massacre, chronicles “true stories in which iconic hip hop moments collided with the sensational and sometimes criminal events behind the scenes.” Season one focuses on the beef between Fif and Game that “led to an all-street war, pitting G-Unit against music impresario Jimmy Henchman.”

Henchman, The Game’s former manager, is currently serving life for the murder-for-hire of a G-Unit affiliate. Moment in Time will be written and executive produced by Abdul William, who penned The Bobby Brown Story, The New Edition Story, Lottery Ticket, and Lifetime’s forthcoming Salt-N-Pepa mini series.

Inspired by the life of sports agent and attorney Nicole Lynn, who serves as executive producer, the second series follows a Black female sports agent’s rise up the ranks in the male dominated industry of sports agents. Tash Grey will produce the series and pen the script. Grey’s notable credits include the Power spinoff Raising Kanan, Snowfall, P-Valley, and the true-crime drama, Unsolved: The Murders of Tupac and Notorious B.I.G.

Both series will be executive produced by 50 Cent and his G-Unit Film & Television imprint.

Continue Reading
Getty Images

Netflix Acquires ‘Malcolm & Marie’ Starring Zendaya, John David Washington

Netflix has acquired the rights to the film Malcolm & Marie staring Zendaya and John David Washington in a $30 million deal during this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. The streaming giant beat out HBO, Amazon, Searchlight, Apple and MGM among others in a bidding war over the film, Deadline reports.

Shot on 35mm black and white film, Malcolm & Marie, tells the story of a filmmaker (portrayed by Washington) who returns home with his girlfriend after a celebrating the premiere of his latest movie. Things take a turn as revelations about the couple’s relationship rise to the surface, changing the mood of the evening.

Malcolm & Marie pic.twitter.com/99RWzgLFbD

— Zendaya (@Zendaya) July 8, 2020

Malcolm & Marie was written, directed and produced by Euphoria creator Sam Levinson, who penned the script in less than a week. Aside from starring in the romantic drama, Zendaya and Washington serve as executive producers on the project.

“I am so grateful to this cast and crew, many of whom are my ‘Euphoria’ family, for coming together during such uncertain times,” Levinson said in a statement. “We felt privileged to be able to make this film together and we did so with a lot of love. We are all thrilled that it has ended up with Netflix which is unparalleled in allowing filmmakers the freedom to tell their stories that reach audiences all over the world.”

The film was shot amid the COVID-19 pandemic at a quarantine location in California in mid-June. Over the course of the two week shoot, heavy precautions were taken to ensure the health and safety of the cast and crew including social distancing, increased sanitary measures, and daily temperature checks.

Netflix’s acquisition of Malcolm & Marie follows an onslaught of TIFF films scooped up by  the company, with Halle Berry’s Bruised among the lot. The film marks Berry’s directorial debut and was sold to Netflix for a reported $20 million.

Continue Reading

Top Stories