“The Game,” The Channel and The Audience

I don’t know how many of my non-minority readership is familiar with “The Game,” but It’s a show about professional football players’ wives and the people around them. It actually is a pretty good look into the life of sports stars, celebrities and rich black people with more money than they grew up with. It leaves out many of the stereotypical things portrayed in most other depictions of athletes, like drug abuse and race, but it does discuss the everyday stuff, like sex, love and money on a regular basis.

But moving past the show itself, “The Game” as a brand and as a business will one day be a case study in many business schools across America—or at least those that include the media business in their curriculums.

When “The Game” was cancelled in 2009 after its third season on the CW network, the show was averaging 1.9 million viewers per episode. That’s actually not a bad audience for the CW, but apparently they were moving away from attracting a black audience, and that’s apparent with shows like “Gossip Girl” and the ever successful reincarnation of “90210.”

Still, 1.9 million viewers is nothing to brag about, and you’re not going to find many places on television that are looking to acquire such an audience when they have to pay the high salaries of actors and producers of an already running series that may or may not be fizzling out.

Of course, some shows in the past have found some modicum of success in moving from broadcast to cable. TNT’s “Southland” is performing okay on the Turner-sister channel, and appears to be headed for tenured second-act on the drama-based cable channel. And when Oprah moves away from daytime broadcast television to her own cable network, one has to imagine that she will indeed have some level of success, if not ratings wise, at the very least, financially.

Thus, there was always hope for “The Game” and its return to television. Many people, including myself, were of the thought that the canceling of “The Game” was an opportunity for a cable-channel seeking a black audience to pick up a show that comes with 2 million viewers. And when word leaked out that BET was interested, I and every other “The Game” fan thought that was a perfect marriage.

Just think of the opportunities that were there. BET could finally move into original, scripted television, something it had not an inkling of. And having missed out on opportunities to run shows like “Soul Food,” or any of the Tyler Perry shows that now run on TBS, BET needed to make a move into scripted programming soon if it was ever going to make that next leap into the category of major cable station, like that of its parent company’s MTV.

Black person after black person would tell you that they never understood why BET was so inferior to MTV. We all figured that once Viacom bought BET, the quality and quantity of BET programming would be on the rise. But it wasn’t. In fact, it seemed to get even less appealing, with moves away from daytime musical classics like “In da Basement,” and into reality television, such as a series that followed the life of Lisa Ray, who with all due respect, hadn’t carried a single, media entity worth mentioning in her entire acting career.

In the words of many a black person who have uttered this very phrase in reference to our self-imposed underachieving, “Black people, we’ve got to do better!”

Come on BET! Enough of amateur hour! At the very least, BET should be the black version of MTV, when it comes to success. MTV is the voice of the young American, and they are a musical and digital power with their dominance on MTV.com, among other websites. However, BET has no such dominance, and its programming does not speak to a large portion of the black American. The staples of MTV have been The Real World and Total Request Live. While BET has had something similar to the latter, there is no flagship program on the channel that deals with something other than music. When you look back on the past and remember a show like “Teen Summit,” it becomes all the more sadder that BET has lost even a comparison to that of the voice of young, black America.

Enter “The Game”—a lofty transition, but an appropriate one if you will just give me a second here. For those of you who don’t know, BET has picked up “The Game.” The show debuted in early January with 7.7 million viewers—making it the most watched sitcom in the history of cable television. That speaks to the power of BET and those who really wanted to see the show succeed. When BET combines with voice of black America, the channels ability to succeed appears to be endless.

Debra Lee, CEO of BET Networks, has made it clear that she is trying to take the channel in a new direction. She wants to bring back the scripted programming that can help BET regain its standing as a voice for black America. Sure, sitcoms and dramedies do not exactly have the same affect as news and magazine programming, but it’s a step in the right direction. BET has to start drawing the type of audience that would be interested in a thought-provoking show like “Teen Summit” in order to justify marketing those programs. “The Game” has a lot of haters, but believe it or not, there are a lot of young, black professional who tuned into that show, my friends and I being many of them. While we were disappointed with some of details and the quality of the show, all of us are happy that the show is on BET, and we are a lot more likely to give BET’s foray into scripted programming another chance the next time they roll out new shows—which should be this fall.

Going back to my original point, “The Game’s” arrival on BET will probably go down as a case study for all media companies. When this is all said and done, the purchase of an already running program may be the catalyst that revives a fledgling cable channel from music videos to interesting, engaging and original content. And the adoption of “The Game” has already influence BET’s look on digital media, with social media playing a large role in its marketing of the show. Tweets and a Facebook fan page are a far cry from the dominance of their sister channel’s internet empire, but if Ms. Lee knows of what she speaks and practices what they preach, BET might be alright someday.

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