Today is a holiday, the third official national celebration of Juneteenth, a day that commemorates , as our crutch Wikipedia describes:
(T)he emancipation of enslaved African Americans. Deriving its name from combining June and nineteenth, it is celebrated on the anniversary of the order by Major General Gordon Granger proclaiming freedom for enslaved people in Texas on June 19, 1865 (two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued).[7
It’s the newest federal holiday, the first since Martin Luther King Day became an official holiday in 1983. Both MLK Day and Juneteenth happen to fall smack dab between pre-existing celebrations, MLK just a couple of weeks after New Year’s and often less than a month before Presidents’ Day and Juneteenth similarly proxemic to Memorial Day and July 4th.
I’n ashamed to admit I used to be friendly with people who would lament that all that this is is yet another day without mail and a reason for Target to offer holiday-themed discounts. And given the temperature associated with that place these days, it’s highly likely a lot of those holiday-discounted items aren’t selling.
It’s fairly easy to educate one’s self on exactly why this is a holiday worth commemorating. The pain and injustice that has been felt by blacks, particularly in the era before the Emancipation Proclamation, is one that can be identified with by virtually anyone of any background. The parallels between the kind of persecution that was inflicted on slaves is one that any student of Jewish history can immediately draw parallels to. My own deeper dive into this coincided with my participation in several of the protests surrounding BLM events during that torrid and draconian summer of 2020, the summer when the murders of George Floyd and Breanna Taylor, as well as other seminal events, prompted calls for people to pay attention. As I was in the middle of my own personal emancipation, one that was being abetted by an incredibly inspiring angelic presence in my life, I was personally motivated to join, as that person has dozens of friends who feel the same way as they do and had numerous friends that visited that shared a bit of their own experiences. They felt passionately about these causes, and they inspired me to follow suit.
And as I have made my living, and still have every intention of continuing to do so, by intensely studying data and experiences from cultures other than my own, I know darn well the disproportionate value of black audiences to media. Statistically empirical facts are that blacks watch more broadcast television and spend more time on social media than overall norms. My first lessons in trying to appeal to this audience came when I was working with a team of TV programmers attempting to determine what would be the most effective counterprogramming to the Sarajevo Winter Olympics in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Little Rock, you might not be surprised to learn, is a market heavily influenced by black TV viewing, and that underserved audience was the catalyst for the growth of the fledgling independent TV station we were charged with finding the best programs for. My bosses and the station’s general manager were unilaterally middle-aged white Jewish men, a fact we did out best to hide from the local media. Our locally raised promotion manager was our mouthpiece and adviser. We counterprogrammed the market’s dominant noon newscast, one that featured a “Dialing for Dollars” giveaway, with ancient reruns of GREEN ACRES, and only somewhat tongue-in-cheek carved out a promotion with the market’s KFC dealers that gave viewers 16 minutes (we were Channel 16) to participate in our version of it, to answer trivia questions about Hooterville which we called “Dialing For Chickens”. , awarding buckets for the fastest and the brightest non-news viewers we could attract. In our first major rating book, GREEN ACRES delivered a 12 share, far and away the largest proportion of audience any spoke of our dayime lineup delivered.
So we continued to heed the advice of our locally raised advisor when he offered that we counterprogram figure skating events, typically the most popular nights of the Winter Olympics, with a batch of knock-off kung fu movies we had purchased that typically ran against weekend morning cartoons. Real action vs. double axels. And not just any movies. We had a few in our inventory that featured black leads from an athlete named Jim Kelly–no, not the Buffalo Bills quarterback, but a black martial arts star of the era whose films were disproprionately popular in theatres in minority communities, and stood out from the dizzying array of Bruce Lee wannabees, most of which used some similarly spelled pseudonym to make it seem like they were legit. I remember nearly four decades later our highest-rated movie of this effort was SOUL BROTHERS OF KUNG FU, which beat the competition on NBC and CBS that night. And yes, KFC bought time in that movie, too.
To say I’ve been conflicted about these realities over all these years would be an understatement. But yet, facts are facts. So perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised that BET’ s schedule today features holiday marathons of Tyler Perry comedies and Steve Harvey’s CELEBRITY FAMILY FEUD, and a lone, stray half-hour produced last year about the power of Juneteenth. My hunch would have been that something more powerful and prominent would have found its way to its air this day, ROOTS, perhaps. DJANGO UNCHAINED. 42. To name a few. But I happen to know the person ultimately responsible for BET’s schedule at the moment, and this person is as fact and reality-driven as I am, so I’m certain the rationales for this scheduling are legitimate. This person has been a highly successful and venerable strategist for Paramount/Viacom for decades. They know their facts.
But I’d like to think that a network called BET, founded by a trailblazing entrepreneur named Robert Johnson before partnering with Viacom and becoming one of its most-watched and influential programming entities, could do slightly better than this on this day in particular. And as rumors swirl that Perry, who is currently now producing several series for BET, may wind up as the new majority owner as Paramount looks to cut costs, that opportunity might be placed squarely in his lap. One of Perry’s current series is a chilling drama called RUTHLESS, a spin-off of his successful scripted drama THE OVAL, which is one of the leading shows on the network’s streaming compliment BET+. As the person who helped emancipate me recently was cast as a recurring character in upcoming episodes, perhaps the biggest break of their career, I was intrigued enough to watch a few episodes this weekend. It’s not my cup of tea; indeed, its subject matter about a rabid sex cult may be disturbing to many. But in Perry’s hands, it is nevertheless well-executed and as gripping as anything one might find these days elsewhere in streaming television. Let’s just say I found it a more appropriate way to commemorate the holiday weekend than watching Steve Harvey mug for the camera.
It might be a timely and worthwhile effort for Perry to now consider a series set against the backdrop of emancipation, if not in the Civil War era itself, certainly in subsequent eras where these issues were at the forefront. I learned a lot about Little Rock’s history when I programmed those movies. There’s that whole incident in involving the Little Rock Nine from 1957. I could describe it for you, but you should take a moment to educate yourself. Many of the very same people that watched SOUL BROTHERS OF KUNG FU grew up with these brave high school students who chose to take out segregationalist laws and the National Guard. I’m willing to place my own BET, pun intended, that something of quality can be done here.
And damned if he doesn’t have several in-house candidates from shows like RUTHLESS and THE OVAL who could be immediately recognizable and I know could knock such roles out of the park. One very special person in particular. Yeah, I’m as biased in this case as I arguably may have been with the choice to program black Kung Fu movies. But facts should scream louder than any opinion. And my fact is I want this person to broaden their impressive portfolio. And if what I suggest even triggers a shred of thought on the part of these executives to consider it, I’ll consider that progress in my own emancipation.
I look forward to seeing something like this on a Perry-owned BET on some future Juneteenth. And I’ll silently wish this special person might choose to watch it with me. Yes, I have my own dream. Oops–that’s another holiday.
Until next time…