Aug 27

The History of BET

Black Entertainment Television (BET), headquartered in Washington, D.C. and currently operates under the VIACOM umbrella.   With more than 90 million homes watching worldwide, it is the well-known station targeting African-American viewers.  It is also a leading provider of black American cultural and entertainment based programming, both of original creations, acquired properties and musical presentations.

After stepping down as a lobbyist for the cable industry, Freeport, Illinois native Robert L. Johnson decided to launch his own cable television network. Johnson would soon acquire a loan for $15,000, and earned a $500,000 investment from media executive John Malone to start the network.[3] The network, which was named Black Entertainment Television, launched on January 25, 1980.[4] Initially broadcasting for two hours a week as a block of programming on Nickelodeon (it would not be until 1983 that BET became a full-fledged channel), the network’s lineup consisted of music videos and reruns of popular black sitcoms.  (from Wikipedia)

BET has gained popularity with its’ vast black audience, but has faced a number of major African Americans critics such as syndicated columnist George Curry, cartoonist and television producer Aaron McGruder, movie director  and producer Spike Lee, and former Syracuse University professor Boyce Watkins. These critics and others denounced BET’s programming, claiming it promoted sexism and anti-intellectualism.

They also argued that showing rap and hip hop-oriented programming along with comedy programs either intentionally or inadvertently promoted anti-black stereotypes. BET founder Richard Johnson and Viacom executives claimed they were providing the programming the market demanded. In 2008 a number of prominent black ministers (“Enough is Enough”) publicly protested BET programming choices outside the network’s headquarters.

Enough is Enough supported a 2008 report “The Rap on Rap” by the Parents Television Council that argued that BET’s rap programming, which they believed contained gratuitous sexual, violent and profane content, was targeting children and teens.

The controversy continued in 2010, when BET co-founder Sheila Johnson said she is “ashamed” of what the network has become. “I don’t watch it. I suggest to my kids that they don’t watch it,” she said. “When we started BET, it was going to be the Ebony magazine on television. We had public affairs programming. We had news.

The criticism has not impacted the growth and acceptance of BET and the various shows and programs they have created.  In 2013, it is reported that 79.82% of households with television receive the BET network.  However, there is no information available as to what percentage of those households chose to get the network, or receive the network as part of a larger cable package.

According to the sales material, “BET provides contemporary entertainment that speaks to young Black adults from an authentic, unapologetic viewpoint of the Black experience. BET connects with its target audience in a way no other media outlet can providing hit music, entertainment and news programming that is reflective of their experiences.  Our outstanding mega-specials keep viewers regularly tuned in for the latest and greatest in Black entertainment.”

Oct 19

At 75, Providence’s Lee continues to create iconic sets for TV, Broadway … – The Providence Journal

It was about a month ago that Eugene Lee got a call from a producer at “Saturday Night Live.” How was work going on the new Weekend Update news desk?

Lee, the popular show’s resident designer since it first aired 40 years ago, was aboard an Amtrak Acela on one of his frequent treks from his home on Providence’s East Side to New York, where he helps make SNL happen.

He recalled having a conversation about replacing the desk, but had been told the old one would stay. Now, it was Wednesday morning and Lorne Michaels, the show’s creator, wanted a new desk for Saturday’s program.

What happened next was not pretty. But after a series of disasters and an all-nighter, the desk got built and Lee once again had saved the day.

Lee is telling this harrowing tale of life on the front lines of live TV while driving to New Haven in his silver Volvo wagon to check out the set he designed for “Our Town” at the award-winning Long Wharf Theatre.

Lee, who’s 75, is a small man with white, fly-away hair, which looks like it belongs to a cartoon character who just stuck his finger in an electrical outlet. He’s got on a navy-blue sweater, khaki pants and hiking boots, along with his signature suspenders and circular glasses.

As he arrives at Long Wharf, an unassuming place amid rows of gritty warehouses, he is greeted not quite like a god, but certainly as a wise elder.

It is refreshing to see a man who has earned three Tony Awards and helped shape the face of late-night TV hanging out at a small regional theater. After all, Lee’s not only responsible for the look of SNL. He created the set for “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” with its diminutive cityscape carved from cherry, and he brought about the recent changes in “Late Night with Seth Meyers.”

But Lee, who’s been the resident designer at Trinity Repertory Company since the late ’60s, seems to be up for whatever comes his way. Besides, he has a hard time saying, no.

“It doesn’t matter whether it’s regional theater or Broadway,” said Brooke Lee, Lee’s wife of 33 years. “He’s not thinking about the importance of the job or the money. It’s just, ‘I have this idea and can do something really wonderful.’ It’s about figuring out how to solve things.”

Iconic play that it is, Lee has never worked on a production of “Our Town.” Never even seen it.

Thornton Wilder’s script, set in 1901 in a small New Hampshire hamlet, of course, calls for very little in the way of scenery, the kind of look Lee is known for. But he has taken that concept and run with it for Long Wharf, even dispensing with the traditional twin stepladders that young George and Emily ascend to share a heartfelt moment.

Instead, a wall of black panels covers the back of an empty, slate-gray stage with black-and-white pictures of houses drawn by third and fourth graders from local schools plastered across the panels.

Beneath the sketches sits a row of mismatched chairs. At times, cast members lug on stage a nondescript table that looks like it was rescued from a street corner to represent someone’s home.

As the second act segues into the third, when we drop in on the dead in the town cemetery, the black panels swivel to create a blinding white space.

“Oskar [Eustis, former head of Trinity Rep] used to say that Eugene is a set designer who hates scenery,” said Gordon Edelstein, Long Wharf’s creative director and director of “Our Town.”

“He was joking, of course. But there’s some truth to that,” said Edelstein. “Eugene’s sets aren’t pretty, they aren’t painterly. But he is a genius — and I use that word cautiously — at boring into the center of a play and finding the theatrical metaphor that works on stage.”

Lee also likes “real” materials, says Edelstein, recalling how two years ago he shipped antique flooring from a derelict whiskey factory in Tennessee to Long Wharf for the synagogue in “My Name is Asher Lev,” Chaim Potok’s tale of a young Jewish boy who is something of a loner with artistic leanings.

“Eugene hates phony scenery,” he said.


Eugene Lee, of course, is known locally for his decades-long association with Trinity Rep, where he and founder Adrian Hall produced some of the most provocative theater Rhode Island has ever seen, when they fired cannon at the audience, literally as well as metaphorically. He, as much as Hall, is responsible for the Trinity style — telling the story and not trying to hide the fact that what the audience is witnessing is theater.

“He’s not about making artistic statements,” said his wife, Brooke. “He’s about telling stories. That’s what he does.”

Until he saw Lee’s Tony-winning production of “Sweeny Todd” on Broadway, Trinity’s current creative head, Curt Columbus, said he’d been a “passive spectator” when it came to the theater. But the towering factory that Lee created — with 10-ton gantries on I-beams — made Columbus feel like he’d “entered the world of the play,” a revelation that changed the way he has made theater ever since.

“Eugene has made me a better theater artist,” he said.

Otherwise, it’s a little hard to pin down the Lee aesthetic. There’s a look, said Brooke, but no rubber stamp.

For Trinity’s “Memory House,” Kathleen Tolan’s mother-daughter memoir, he used the barest of staging, while he went all out for the detail-rich London underground stop for “Camelot.”

“It’s never the same twice,” said Columbus. “Sometimes his sets are pared down to the essentials, sometimes they are so lavish you can’t believe they can happen in a theater.”

The bottom line: Lee is all about serving the play, not himself.

Richard Jenkins, the Oscar-nominated film actor who got his start at Trinity, recalls a production of Shakespeare’s “Troilus and Cressida,” in which Lee placed a rusted-out truck on stage. But when Adrian Hall complained that he had trouble seeing actor David Kennett sitting in the truck’s cab, Lee came out during intermission with a torch and cut away the cab.

“Most designers would have never done that,” said Jenkins. “But Eugene wanted to make the play better.”

Lee, whom his wife describes as easy going but not afraid to tell it like it is, tends to be his harshest critic, saying he only sees his mistakes. And he’s intense, but doesn’t cave under pressure. When asked if he weren’t a bit frazzled by the Weekend Update desk debacle, Lee, who’s spent his career in the trenches, said only, “You somehow have to make it work.”

Lee said he does well with the big picture, but confesses he tends to lose interest in the details. And he’s not one for over-thinking his craft. When asked if ending “Our Town” with a blaze of white was a metaphor for the afterlife, he just shrugged and said, “Maybe.”

The first thing you notice when you climb the narrow stairs to Lee’s East Side studio are the vintage bicycles hanging from the rafters, then the hanging lamps, clocks and bentwood chairs, along with an imposing coal stove. It’s a cluttered loft in the brick carriage house behind the elegant four-bedroom Georgian Revival he shares with Brooke and their two black Labs, a designer’s fun house that very much reflects his curious and inventive mind and what he calls his “funny ways.”

Some of the items that fill the house are from the couple’s funky flea-market finds — collections of turkey-shaped salt and pepper shakers, souvenir buildings, globes and typewriters.

Brooke and Eugene met in the spring of 1980 at a dinner party put together by a match-making friend. He invited her sailing the next weekend and ended up giving her a bracelet in the parking lot of a plumbing supply company next to the old Leo’s restaurant, where Brooke made pastries.

“I wanted someone who knew what Payne’s grey was,” said Brooke, a painter who’s fond of that shade. “I don’t believe in soul mates, but there he was.”

The couple, the parents of two grown children, have made their home in Providence, not New York, because Lee finds Rhode Island “quirky,” and that appeals to him.

He uses a cell phone, but has managed to avoid the technological advances in his profession. He doesn’t draw with computers, relying instead on the worn mechanical drafting arm that has served him for years.

“I’ve been working since high school,” said Lee, “and haven’t changed much.”

And he doesn’t bother much with money. Lee said he has no idea what he’s paid for his work at SNL, and doesn’t know who handles his money. All he knows is that Brooke makes sure he has cash in his money clip.

“I haven’t signed a check in 20 years,” he said.

That’s not to say Lee is hurting financially. A little musical called “Wicked” made sure of that. Lee won his third Tony for the Broadway blockbuster, and he continues to reap rewards as it’s staged around the world.

“Wicked” paid for a weekend getaway on the Jamestown shore with a 250-foot dock. And it has allowed him to hire a driver to chauffeur him home from New York each weekend when he’s finished with SNL.

“It was life-changing,” said Brooke of “Wicked.”

Even though Lee grew up in Wisconsin, the son of a mechanical engineer “who’d rather have been fishing,” he’s got a thing for the water and keeps eight sailboats moored around the state and the Cape.

He was in fact living on a 52-foot wishbone ketch in Pawtuxet Cove when he first started working at Trinity in the late 1960s. That’s when he got a call from Lorne Michaels, the young Canadian producer who was creating a live comedy show for late-night TV. He’d seen Lee’s set for “Candide” on Broadway, for which he won a Tony.

Michaels said he was struck by Lee’s “radical” approach to “Candide,” an honest take that picked up on the urban decay of the 1970s and wasn’t into shiny surfaces and primary colors that seemed false. And that was the look Lee brought to SNL.

“His basic look is rooted in the look of realism,” Michaels said.

He and Lee, Michaels said, are a perfect fit. They talk over designs, Lee disappears and returns with the problem solved.

“He’s been great,” said Michaels.

Lee is something of a self-made man who just happened to spend time at places such as Carnegie Mellon and Yale, working with some gifted artists.

The way he tells it, he’d show up at a school in the VW Beetle his grandmother bought him as a high school graduation present and talk his way into the design program. He picked up three degrees in as many years, he said.

Although he’s never been much of an academic, at this point in life he’d like to teach. And he’d like that to happen at Brown University.

After Trinity’s Michael McGarty left Brown, Lee let it be known that he wanted his job, but was turned down. That led Lee, in his more petulant moments, to threaten to cut ties to Trinity, which jointly runs the graduate theater program with Brown.

The only reason he’s still working at Trinity, Lee said, is because of Brian Mertes, who directed last season’s knockout “A Lie of the Mind,” Sam Shepard’s bruising look at two half-mad families torn apart by a horrible act of domestic violence. Lee framed the action with a wall of 52 box fans that came to life at key moments in the show.

“He’s crazy, but I love him,” said Lee of Mertes.

Lee had big plans for Brown, though. Still does. He talks about how he’d like to bring in some of the top people in theater to work with students, and in the process create one of the premier design departments in the country.

But he got a terse note from theater department head Erik Ehn, saying the school isn’t interested in a professional design program, preferring to expose students to design in a liberal arts setting.

But Lee’s not buying it. Design students need to spend time with people like him, who have spent their lives in the theater, not the classroom, he said.

“I got the job at ‘Saturday Night Live’ because Lorne saw something I did on Broadway,” says Lee, “not because I went to Yale.”

At 75, Lee uses a cane now and again for an occasional back problem, but otherwise seems spry and busier than ever.

Besides his work for NBC, he has a hand in the new Steve Martin-Edie Brickell musical, “Bright Star,” which is breaking box office records at The Old Globe in San Diego. And he’s scrambling to finish a “Nutcracker” with award-winning illustrator Chris Van Allsburg that’s slated to open in seven weeks in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Just the other day he got a call from Bryan Singer, creator of the “X-Men” films, asking if he’d like to take part in a new stage project, to which Lee responded in the affirmative. He loves what Singer has in mind, but can’t talk about it.

He’s also working with Francis Ford Coppola on what the legendary director refers to as “live cinema,” an autobiographical look at a famed Italian filmmaker that Coppola plans to release on various digital platforms in 2016. The first half of the show calls for 350 sets, which does not seem to rattle Lee in the least.

“Francis said, ‘At our age, let’s try it,’ ” said Lee. “If it flops, so be it.”

Lee agreed last week to take on a Broadway adaptation of “Somewhere in Time,” based on Richard Matheson’s book about a young playwright and his encounter with a mysterious woman. Meanwhile, “The Fortress of Solitude,” Jonathan Lethem’s coming-of-age story set in 1970s Brooklyn, is now playing New York’s Public Theater, and “Amazing Grace,” the story of an Englishman caught up in the British slave trade, just opened in Chicago on its way to Broadway.

Theresa Rebeck’s “The Understudy,” another one of his shows, opened last week in Princeton, and he’s been hired to stage for Seattle Rep “Outside Mullingar,” the new John Patrick Shanley play that was just on Broadway.

Besides the ever-growing list of shows he’s working on, Lee is thinking about creating a new set for SNL. He’s fond of his decade-old Grand Central Terminal set, but open to change.

Perhaps he’ll begin the show with an aerial view of the Comcast Building, the new name for 30 Rockefeller Plaza, where the NBC studios are housed. Then with the help of some digital magic, sweep down the side of the building and into the studio, where there might be an image of the Rockefeller Center skating rink and its statue of the Greek Titan Prometheus.

With all this work on his plate, you might think Lee has a high-powered PR machine behind him. But he says he’s never sent out a résumé and doesn’t go after jobs. Instead, the world lines up at his door. And as long as that happens, he will continue to work his magic on the stage.

“And when they stop calling,” he says, “I guess it’s over.”

On Twitter:

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Oct 17

Brush with fame: NJ celebrity hairstylist talks ‘Hair by David’ – The Star-Ledger

KEARNY — You may not know his name, but it’s likely you’ve seen his work.

George Clooney, Al Pacino, Alec Baldwin, Harry Belafonte and the late Christopher and Dana Reeve have all had their hair styled by David Antunes.

Antunes, who has worked behind the scenes with supermodels Adriana Lima and Karolina Kurkova and on shows helmed by fashion industry legends Diane von Furstenberg and Betsey Johnson, recently found a muse closer to home — “Real Housewives of New Jersey” star Teresa Giudice.

“I am the brand ambassador for Youthful 8 Milania Collection, which is the hair care line that she endorses and that’s how we met,” Antunes says of his relationship with Giudice, who was recently sentenced to federal prison time for fraud. “She’s an incredible, humble human being. I wouldn’t want to bring anything negative to her. I have a lot of respect for her.”

The 44-year-old helped Giudice transform her look, most notably, for the sixth season of the Bravo series. Fans of the show, may have noticed that Giudice traded long, jet-black locks for a layered softer espresso ‘do punctuated with subtle highlights.

Antunes prides himself on gaining and sustaining the trust of his clients — both in and out of the salon chair.

“I always tell a client, ‘You don’t know me and I don’t know you.’ It’s about building a solid rapport and building a connection and me guiding them in the right direction,” Antunes says.

When it comes to adopting a new look, Antunes says he considers more than locks and layers.

“I take into account the client’s lifestyle, how much time they want to spend on their hair, can they maintain this style … this goes for men as well,” Antunes says.

Change is something Antunes embraced at an early age. After high school, Antunes enrolled in New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology, where he went from an aspiring fashion designer to a stylist.

“I got involved with doing models’ and actresses’ hair for headshots. That’s basically what started everything,” Antunes says. “When I would meet these actors and models and do their hair, they would say, ‘Here’s my card’ or ask for my card. It really started to snowball from there.”

His career has since sent him globetrotting, which has served for further inspiration.

One of Antunes’ most talked-about styles was an Audrey Hepburn-inspired updo he gave Giudice after a trip to France.

“I had just come back from Paris and I wanted to do a modern-day ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ look. I said, ‘Teresa, this is something we have to do on you,’ ” Antunes says. “I did and everybody loved it. It was different, it was light. It was classic, sophisticated.”

While he often travels across the pond and far beyond, Antunes remains a Jersey guy at heart. He opened his salon, Hair By David, in his native Kearny in 2006. He lives in North Jersey with his partner of 11 years.

“I decided to open my own salon due to the fact that I had done production, photo shoots and was involved with actors and models for many years. It was something on the bucket list that I had to do,” Antunes says. “I did it at the right moment in my life. I was seasoned. I felt I was mature and business savvy.”

He was encouraged to start his business while at CNBC, where he spent seven years as lead stylist working daily with stars of all stripes.

“At that time, I was taking care of all the celebrities that would come in. Carmen Electra, Omarosa, David Navarro, Olympic gold medalists, rock stars. I was Geraldo Rivera’s stylist as well,” Antunes says. “And they would all say, ‘Why don’t you have your own space? You’re too talented to be working for someone else.’ “

Antunes’ former clients include Christopher and Dana Reeve, Geraldo Rivera, tennis player John McEnroe and Suze Orman. He has worked with celebrities for all of the major television networks, as well as for Bravo, MTV, the VH1 Music Awards and the Grammy Awards.

His posh salon on Kearny Avenue is open Tuesdays through Saturdays and delivers high-fashion style at moderate prices. Haircuts and highlights start at $55 and $65, respectively and depend on the length and density of a customer’s hair. Blowouts, like the ones Giudice sports, are $25 to $50, and updos are $75. The salon’s modern décor — full-length mirrors and sparkling chandeliers — shares the unassuming style of its owner.

“I’m a professional and I love to create. So it doesn’t make a difference if it’s a model, an actress, a mom … I remain extremely humble to my craft,” says Antunes, who cuts his own hair. “It doesn’t matter whose hair I’m touching.”

Janelle Griffith may be reached at Follow her on Twitter @janellefiona. Find on Facebook.

Oct 15

CW Veteran John Maatta Joins Enjoyment Arm of Greenberg Traurig : Variety

CW Veteran John Maatta Joins Entertainment

Kevin Winter/Getty Images

John Maatta , the particular longest-serving employee of the WB System and the CW , is segueing to a post with the entertainment and media practice on Greenberg Traurig .

Maatta, a preferred and respected biz exec, may focus on legal matters related to enjoyment development, production, new media, VOD, employment, co-production and financing contracts and issues involving TV plus Internet distribution. Maatta’s got hands-on experience in all of those areas because of his long run at the WB plus CW, and before that on Lorimar/Warner Bros.

“We are very pleased to welcome John towards the firm and continue to build our own strong entertainment practice in La, ” said Dan Black, chair of Greenberg Traurig’s West Coastline Entertainment and Media Practice. “John’s multi-faceted, hands-on television and digital experience, combined with his extensive network of high level contacts, will be a excellent benefit to our clients. ”

Maatta joined WB soon after its inception in 1993 — he was employee No . 1 after founder Jamie Kellner hit his deal with Warner Bros. in order to back the nascent effort. This individual rose to chief operating officer and managed the transition towards the CW in 2006, when the WB and UPN merged operations.

Maatta shifted to exec VP and general counsel after Mark Pedowitz came to the CW as president in 2011. He will consult for the CW through the rest of this season.

“From The WB to the CW, we thank Mark for more than 20 years of service, in addition to his important contributions to creating two new broadcast networks, ” Pedowitz said. “We wish Mark the absolute best in this next section of his career. ”

(Pictured: John Maatta with former ‘Beverly Hills 90210′ star Shannen Doherty)

Stick to @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more

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