And why did you leave BET in the first place?
This is tour of duty number three for me at BET. The first time I left was right after I did the O.J. Simpson interview and opportunities opened up to me. During that period I had been a BET for quite sometime and so like anyone else you want your career to grow. When I returned, they canceled BET Tonight, so that was not my choice. They wanted to move in a different direction at that time so we severed ties. But whether it was me leaving or them canceling a show there was never any animosity. It’s understood it’s a business and when they called this time I held no ill will and neither did they so we’re back together again.
What’s been the reception from people since your shows have hit the air?
I’ve been humbled by the greetings I’ve received on the street, thru Facebook on emails and on the radio— it’s been a real welcome home time for me. And there seems to be a real need for a program that speaks to the issues that we feel are important. We will also try to broaden the scope of the discussions and talk about the relevancy of each issue. So even if [whatever we’re discussing] may seem trivial at first, we’ll try to pull back the onion to see what bigger implications some of this stuff may have.
Earlier you mentioned the Bishop Long scandal and being a journalist I wanted to know what was your take on it?
We talked about it on the Weekly With Ed Gordon show. I think it’s too early to make judgment on Bishop Long. He has suggested that he’s gonna fight this thing and I think by all accounts he should have the ability to do so without passing condemnation. I think there is a bigger issue than Eddie Long. I think it’s understanding the role that mega churches play in our community and the role that ministers play in our community. And we should have better conversations about do we give too much credence to the men and women who hold these positions? None of them are omnipotent, all of them are human with frailties. And I think we oft times forget that and instead have faith in these people blindly. I think the whole question of sexuality and morality particularly in the church is not talked about very much in our community. And we had Rev. Calvin Butts on the show as a panelist and he said he hoped it [the Bishop Long controversy] would start an open discussion about sexuality in our community. We have a lot of homophobia in our community and a lot of hypocrisy in our community. Some of the biggest gay bashers that we’ve seen are closeted gays themselves. These are issues that we should not be afraid to talk about. And I hope Bishop Long will have the opportunity to be able to right this issue one way or the other, whatever the case may be guilt or innocence. We need to pay attention to what’s going on and give him the opportunity to speak without passing judgment until we know all the facts.
And on the pop culture side of things, reality shows are hugely popular right now. Celebrities are doing them and regular people are participating as well. What do you think of them?
I think they are entertaining at times. I don’t watch much of it but I can’t say that I’ve never watched any of them. And sometimes it is a guilty pleasure and fun to watch. And if we buy into the idea that it’s good television, it’s entertainment then it’s okay. Everything in moderation, I think. But like anything else it can be harmful if not taken in the right way.
So when is reality TV bad? Which audiences of the genre are you most concerned about?
Sometimes we laugh and joke about the craziness that’s on reality television but there’s a bigger issue of reality television particularly in our community. For people to really believe that what we’re seeing is the way life would play out without the camera would be foolish. I’m concerned with people who really believe that and try to emulate some of what they see on reality television and assume their real lives should play out the same way. They don’t realize that much of what they see is given to these individuals by the show. They are prompted to act this way. It is not truly unscripted television. Reality TV stars are poked and prodded to do certain things to bring certain drama.
You’re known for your top notch celebrity interviews. Do you think reality TV has cheapened the idea of fame? There are lots of people who have become famous for just playing exaggerated versions of themselves and don’t seem to have any real talent.
A lot of these people have bought into fame for fame sake— you can see that with any of these Housewives stars. And now you can now argue that they’re television stars like any other television star—there’s probably some truth to that. But if we buy into the idea that you should have some kind of talent; because they are not acting in its real sense, they’re not musicians, and they’re not comedians. They’re just being ‘themselves.’ That’s another thing. And I’m not going to pass judgment on who has the right to be a reality star or not. Because there are people out there who like a Paris Hilton or a Kim Kardashian who became famous just because those women had tapes that were released. We can live in a world where folks become famous just to become famous— that’s fine. As long as we don’t lose sight of the other things in the world.
What are some important things that entertainment show like reality TV can cause us to lose focus of?
Like some of the issues that are key to our survival—like voting, whether or not our children can afford college. And participating in a system that elected a black President but if you now sit on the sidelines and don’t vote again what was the real need to put him in office? I’m all for having fun. Listen, I was two votes away from being class clown in high school, but there’s a time to be serious and there’s a time to understand that they’re issues that are more important than what The Situation did on The Jersey Shore. We have to make sure while we’re laughing with reality television the true real world doesn’t slide by us. We don’t want to look up one day and realize we’re in a place that we shouldn’t be as a people.