Debra Lee, who is the CEO of Black Entertainment Television, speaking at a Michael Jackson Tribute Forum during the Congressional Black Caucus’ annual convention in Washington, D.C, has spoken of how Michael’s music and videos saved the TV channel from disaster.
As a new TV broadcaster BET were short of funds and relied on videos and talk shows to provide cheap programming.
Ms Lee said: “We were able to take those little pieces of film, put them together and make highly professional, creative shows. We didn’t make the videos, the labels did, but [Michael’s label] gave them to us for free,” says Lee, who has been with BET for over 25 years. “And it really turned this network into a business model that worked. And Michael led that charge.”
Lee states that this helped stave off economic collapse and created a revenue windfall. She intimates that had Michael used MTV exclusively after breaking that network’s colour barrier and forgotten about BET, the consequences would have been catastrophic. “That would have been the death knell for us,” Lee says frankly. “But if he came out with a new video … he said MTV and BET get the video at the same time.” Michael’s work enabled BET to find its fiscal footing allowing it to grow into a viable, independent entertainment entity.
She also paid tribute to his influence over entertainment culture at the time. “He was the one who really turned videos into full-fledged entertainment. And he did it better than anyone else.”