Yesterday, Today, & FOREVER The King of Pop

Michael Jackson Saved BET From Extinction

by Terry Shropshire

Debra Lee, CEO of BET

BET would not have survived its turbulent
beginning without Michael Jackson, says station CEO Debra Lee. In the
1980s, Black Entertainment Television was a fledgling all-black station
struggling to survive and create an identity at the same time that
Jackson was cresting towards the pinnacle of his artistry and

BET was able to leverage the unquenchable thirst for the King of Pop’s music videos, particularly the ones off the Thriller album, to create a revenue windfall and help stave off economic collapse.

didn’t have very much money and videos were cheap programming. That’s
why we had so many video shows [in the beginning], in addition to the
talk shows that we had,” Lee said at a Michael Jackson tribute forum
during the Congressional Black Caucus’ annual convention in Washington,

“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 [Jackson’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. He was the one who really turned videos into
full-fledged entertainment. And he did it better than anyone else.”

says that if MTV and Jackson rode each other to glory, then Jackson
also helped BET ride out of financial doom. Lee intimated that had
Jackson used MTV exclusively after breaking that network’s color
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.”

Along with other artists and
programming, Jackson enabled BET to find its fiscal footing until it
could grow into a viable, independent entertainment entity.

Michael allowed us to stay in the game even when MTV opened its doors
and started playing black videos,” she said. “So it’s sort of like when
white universities started allowing black folks to play ball, all of a
sudden the black college couldn’t keep the players anymore. And that
would have happened to us if Michael had let that happen, [but] he
didn’t,” Lee added to applause.
 –terry shropshire

Find out what else Debra Lee and other notables like Dr. Cornel West and Roland Martin have to say about
Michael Jackson on Rollingout Video.


Michael Jackson’s Legacy part I

Michael Jackson’s Legacy part II

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