A CYNOPSIS MESSAGE FROM TV ONE
Programming that uplifts, inspires and entertains… Watch the 46th NAACP Image Awards live on Friday Feb 6 at 9/8C hosted by Anthony Anderson; a brand-new original movie, White Water, starring Sharon Leal and Larenz Tate on Sat Feb 7 at 8/7C; all new episodes of Unsung Hollywood on Wednesday Feb 11 at 8/7C; and the 23rd Annual Trumpet Awards on Saturday Feb 21 at 8/7C. Visit www.tvone.tv for more!
Cynopsis Media Presents: Black History Month Special
By Cathy Applefeld Olson
Selma. If there’s one word that sums up the tenor leading into this year’s Black History Month, it’s the Oscar-nominated film and, more notably, the 50th anniversary of the marches led Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. the film documents. Programmers are hoping the elevated focus on the civil rights movement will translate into even more eyes on their offerings this month.
“This is a particularly interesting year for many of us. It’s a great time to be telling a civil rights story because Selma has really raised people’s consciousness,” says David Royle, Smithsonian Channel EVP, programming and production. “If you’ve seen Selma, hopefully you’ll want to know a whole lot more.”
Smithsonian will premiere two original movies during February. Legend of Lead Belly (Feb. 23) highlights the life and artistry of the blues musician and his influence on artists from Van Morrison to Nirvana. To help build buzz, the network throughout the month will host screenings in conjunction with Comcast in cities including Atlanta, Denver and Memphis. “As a television channel, the most important place for us is broadcast, but we love it when we can take programs out to live audiences,” Royle says.
The net’s Danny Glover-narrated special Mississippi Inferno (Feb. 16) honors the 50th anniversary of the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act and the courageous black landowners who provided safe havens to the civil rights workers during 1964’s Freedom Summer voter drive.
Al Jazeera America is launching #Branding Black, a monthlong social media campaign that raises questions about the line between multicultural marketing and the commercialization of “blackness.” Throughout February, the net will offer a transmedia experience around the topic, delivering relevant videos, analysis and opinions across broadcast and social media. In addition, Al Jazeera America is serving up relevant episodes of “Talk to Al Jazeera,” including one featuring dancer Misty Copeland (Feb. 1) and Akon (Feb. 8).
Given the sheer volume of Black History Month offerings, the networks that cater specifically to African Americans are using the event month as a time to raise their own bar. “Competition for the black audience is at an all-time high in general, so other networks that are more mainstream take February as an opportunity to land black programming on the schedule,” says D’Angela Proctor, SVP, original programming and production at TV One. “We are in the black people business. For us, it’s black history year.”
February is also a great month to set the net’s overall programming tone. “The goal is always audience retention and audience recruitment. We use tentpole events like the Image Awards and Trumpet Awards as opportunities to let our audience know about upcoming programming, and that we are bringing something different,” Proctor says. “Not only does it lift that night to significant [ratings] levels but it’s a huge marketing opportunity to show to the occasional TV One viewer.”
Notably, when the network airs the NAACP Image Awards on Feb. 6for the second in TV One’s five-year contract to air the eventit will follow with the premiere of new girl-power romantic dramedy Born Again Virgin and offer a sneak peak at original movie White Water, which airs Feb. 7 and tells the story of a young boy determined to drink from the “whites only” fountain in Opelika, Ala., during the summer of 1963.
“The Selma story is such a pervasive part of early 2015 in the media,” says Proctor. “White Water just happens to be the perfect complement because it talks about civil rights through the eyes of a little boy and how the issues were so minute it came down to how the water tasted.”
The month also will see the season premieres of network staples R&B Divas LA and Unsung Hollywood, plus the cross-platform extension of some TV One content. Born Again Virgin, for example, will have a blog on sister site Interactive One. “One of the lead characters is a blogger and we’ll be seeking to do more with that online,” Proctor says.
Just as TV One is packing its February schedule with premieres and event programming, the airing of BET Networks’ first-ever miniseries this month is no coincidence. The Book of Negroes, a three-night, six-hour historical drama about the life journey of an African woman, is based on the Lawrence Hill novel about the historical document called The Book of Negroes that recorded names and descriptions of 3,000 African-American slaves who worked for the British army during the American Revolution in order to qualify for their freedom and evacuation to Nova Scotia. Premiering Feb. 16, the miniseries stars Aunjanue Ellis, Cuba Gooding Jr., Louis Gossett Jr. and Jane Alexander.
While “the celebration of Selma is wonderful… That’s happening in theatrical world. We’re looking at our audience, and what would be the best fit for them,” says Charlie Jordan Brookins, SVP, original programming. “What sets ‘Book of Negroes’ apart in its telling of that part of our history is it’s a woman’s journey, and our audience is predominantly female, and she has this survival spirit and is still triumphant in the end.”
Comparisons to Roots are inevitable. And that’s just fine with BET, which aired the epic 1977 miniseries in December 2013. “We’re not saying this is next Roots, but we are saying this is a very special epic miniseries along those lines that can draw a multicultural audience,” she notes.
Brookins says the network’s focus during Black History Month is unique programming. “Our audience expects our network to give them something they aren’t going to find somewhere else. With Book of Negroes and BET Honors [airing Feb. 23], you have to come to BET to get them vs. the more conventional [content] that celebrates black history that everyone’s clawing to get this time of year so they have something for Black History Month,” she says. “We fortify the schedule with the films everyone else is looking for, but we look for what differentiates us and makes us special.”
African American-focused broadcaster Bounce TV is going with a month-long slate of historically focused movies (including Malcom X, The Color Purple and Mississippi Burning) and documentaries, plus the debut of an original short-form series of vignettes called “Today’s History Makers” featuring influential African Americans such as Common, Tamar Braxton and K. Michelle sharing their perspective on contemporary African-American heroes.
ASPiRE on Feb. 19 will exclusively premiere the indie film Doin’ It In The Park: Pick-Up Basketball, NYC, which explores the history, culture, and social impact of New York’s summer basketball scene. The movie dovetails with the network’s CIAA Men’s Basketball coverage. “As we move into Black History Month, we felt that this highly acclaimed indie documentary would be the perfect fit for our network,” says GM Paul Butler.
Among other Black History Month fodder, PBS on Feb. 20 will premiere the documentary American Masters-August Wilson: The Ground on Which I Stand, marking the 70th anniversary of the Tony- and Pulitzer-winning playwright’s birth and 10th anniversary of his death. Directed by Sam Pollard, the special features new interviews with Viola Davis, Laurence Fishburne, James Earl Jones, Suzan-Lori Parks and Phylicia Rashad.
Investigation Discovery will air the one-hour special Hate In America on Feb. 23. The probe into modern-day racism by Al Jazeera America anchor Tony Harris “is a heart-breaking reminder of the hate that still exists in our country today and, in fact, around the world,” says Henry Schleiff, group president of ID, Destination America, American Heroes Channel, Discovery Fit & Health, and Discovery Family Channel.
For its part, OWN elected not to wait for Black History Month to roll out a heaping plate of civil rights-related programming. Its January roster included a star-studded Oprah Winfrey Presents: Legends Who Paved The Way, plus special eps of Oprah: Where Are They Now?, Oprah’s Master Class and Oprah Prime. The latter celebrates the impact of the Selma marches and includes conversations with David Oyelowo, who stars in the film, and director Ava DuVernay.
“The discussion taking place is much broader than a movie; it has aroused a lot of public interest that goes to the heart of what was going on during the civil rights movement,” Smithsonian’s Royle says. “I do think that any time you can play off Hollywood and popular culture in the nonfiction space, it works well.”
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