The BET Awards aired last night on CBS. It was the 20th anniversary and of course it’s not like the BET Awards are never broadcast – but what makes this noteworthy is that they were broadcast for the first time on one of the big four networks aka one of the “legacy” networks: ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX. While more and more viewers are moving away from the legacy networks, and there’s an entire generation of kids out there, maybe even two generations, who’ve never watched legacy programming at all, the idea that the legacy networks are more prestigious than streaming services and other outlets persists. It’s kind of like celebrity strata. For the people who get famous on Instagram or YouTube, the ones who have millions of followers and often more views on their videos than some television series and films, the ultimate benchmark of fame and success is still how fame used to be defined: movies, TV, album deals with the big labels, mainstream radio play, etc.
Where the BET Awards are concerned, as many have pointed out, even though Black culture has dominated the general culture, and Black creatives continue to trailblaze and shape all artistic industries, the fact that they’ve been ignored by the legacy networks even though the legacy networks have been airing all the many country music associations and their awards for decades is an obvious comparison.
For members of the Black community, then, of course it was meaningful to see legacy programming finally include a celebration of Black artists. But then again, I’m not sure we can ignore the fact that a pandemic is happening – and in America especially, the pandemic is worsening. If there isn’t already, there will be a shortage of original programming as so many productions continue to be suspended and what was in the pipeline is being depleted. In a year’s time, or maybe two, depending on how much worse the spikes in infection rates get and how many continue to resist the warnings, and when a vaccine can be produced, when programming is “normal” again, whatever that looks like, and there isn’t a dearth of content, do the legacy networks still make the same decisions? Black, Indigenous, and other people of colour have pointed out time and again that, right now, the urgency around representation is appreciated… but can and will it be sustained? People are coming forward now with their stories of inequality in the workplace, the racism they’ve experienced in newsrooms and boardrooms, in interviews, in meetings, during the hiring process, etc, and it’s great that they are being supported. But they are also worried that the status quo keeps a ledger.
Here’s Amanda Seales’s opening monologue from the BET Awards last night.
Yours in gossip,