Oprah Adds BET to the HARPO Legacy
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Launched at the beginning of 1980, Black Entertainment Television (BET) was the premiere network to provide Afro-centric programming on a large scale by 1983. It gave viewers access to music videos of black artists when the only black artists on MTV were Prince and Michael Jackson. From there the network expanded to include gospel showcases, BET news, which introduced viewers to Tavis Smiley, and other shows that focused on black current events and syndicated family sitcoms.
In 2001, Robert Johnson sold the network to Viacom, much to the frustration and disappointment of viewers the world over. Complaints about the quality of programming, which had plateaued over the years, started a downward spiral since the purchase, according to a significant number of supporters. The groundbreaking programs like Rap City and 106th and Park, which were very popular among the younger viewers, were cut from the line up. BET lost its status as the first black owned and operated entertainment commodity on the New York Stock Exchange after the sale.
Given her media track record, BET could have done a lot worse than having Oprah Winfrey as an owner. Unfortunately, the story of the sale was just another instance of rumors making the media. A probable reason for the public to spread such a story is that the multi-billionaire mogul could be seen as the savior of black media itself. When she reportedly said that she intended to make BET for black people again, supporters of the network whole heartedly embraced the sentiment.