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09 Mar 2010

Ed Gordon Back to BET

Listed under: Blog

Ed Gordon Returning to BET

By Richard Prince

“Serious Issues Will Be Covered and Covered Well”

Ed Gordon, who came to national attention as the anchor-host of news and interview shows on Black Entertainment Television two decades ago, is returning to BET. Under the arrangement, Gordon will do news specials and a regular show that is “in development,” Gordon told Journal-isms on Monday.

The Detroit native, now 49, joined BET in 1988 and is perhaps best known for interviewing such celebrities as Nelson Mandela, Oprah Winfrey, then-president Bill Clinton, a chastened Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., the late Michael Jackson and R&B artist R. Kelly, who was then facing child pornography charges of which Kelly was later acquitted.

In 1996, the mainstream media took notice when Gordon became the first reporter to sit down with O.J. Simpson after the former football giant’s acquittal on double murder charges. After the hourlong interview, People magazine included Gordon among “The 50 Most Beautiful People in the World.”

The spotlight shifted when in 2002, BET bosses Robert L. Johnson and Debra L. Lee canceled Gordon’s long-running interview program “BET Tonight With Ed Gordon,” the reporters’ roundtable show he hosted, “Lead Story,” and the public affairs show “Teen Summit,” saying they were money losers. Gordon protested publicly about the demise of “BET Tonight.”

His post-BET career has been uneven, with stints at MSNBC and CBS-TV’s “60 Minutes II,” an acrimonious time hosting National Public Radio’s “News and Notes,” and most recently, as the host of the syndicated “Our World With Black Enterprise.”

However, times change. On Monday, Lee, who succeeded Johnson as CEO, said in a statement that, “As BET celebrates its 30th anniversary, it brings me great joy to welcome back one of America’s most prominent news personalities. Ed has always remained part of the BET family and I am sure viewers will share in our excitement to have him back.”

Gordon said that viewers still come up to him and say, “We miss you on BET” or, “I watch you on BET all the time.”

Gordon told Journal-isms that his new show would encompass “everything that’s in the headlines, from hard news to pop culture,” although “everything under the umbrella of headlines, from the New York Times to the ‘Today’ show to ’60 Minutes,’ has taken a turn toward pop culture.” But he said “serious issues will be covered and covered well.”

Since BET canceled its news and public affairs shows in 2002, replacing them at first with news briefs, the network’s executives have sought to change their image
as a network primarily devoted to booty-shaking music videos.

Johnson has left the network, and at a reception last year when BET unveiled its upcoming programming, Lee, now CEO, told Journal-isms that the election of Barack Obama helped prompt a belief that it was “time to sit back with my management team and say, ‘where are we going. What do I want my legacy to be? After 30 years, what do we want to stand for?'”

The network, which received the Thumbs Down award from the National Association of Black Journalists after it declined to join other networks in broadcasting the funerals of civil rights icons Rosa Parks in 2005 and Coretta Scott King in 2006, boasted in its news release:

“Through the use of news briefs, compelling specials, expert panelists, and open dialogue between the studio and online audience, The BET news division is committed to bringing forth the issues that matter most to African Americans. The BET news department recently won two NAACP Images Awards in the categories of Outstanding News / Information Series and Outstanding Variety Series or Special for ‘The Inauguration of Barack Obama, 44th President of the United States’ and ‘The Michael Jackson Memorial: Celebrating the Life of Michael Jackson.'”

Of his most recent job, hosting “Our World With Black Enterprise,” Gordon said, “I won’t be able to continue with that. I was thrilled with what we were able to do in three seasons. I wish more people had known about that show.”

I wonder where Jeff Johnson will land?

Paul Porter
Industry Ears