Hot Ghetto BET

Does a black television network have a responsibility to do better?

"Welcome back to Hot Ghetto Mess," says Charlie Murphy, as the comic and brother of Eddie launches another segment of what may be the most masterful example of bullshitting on television today.

Murphy deserves some sort of award for the (mostly) straight face he keeps as he tells his audience that the video clips we're about to see contain some kind of uplifting, educational message. To reinforce his point, the comedian is wearing something resembling a smoking jacket on a set that's supposed to evoke a drawing room, or at least someone's idea of an environment of "class." Murphy, in other words, is in a place outside the 'hood, or perhaps above it, looking down.

Then the videos take over, which is really why we're watching. Oh, look—there's a white prostitute wrestling with her black pimp on a street somewhere. She's apparently trying to keep him from kicking someone's ass in broad daylight, and then that someone hauls off and decks the pimp. Boy, is his whore pissed!

image: BET Networks

Video No. 2 is a rollicking good fistfight between two African-American ladies. As one drives the other's head into the back fender of an SUV (ouch!), we hear onlookers explain that they are fighting over a man who is serving time in jail. Won't he be proud!

The next clip shows us two young women taking turns slapping the other in the face with surprising ferocity: They're competing for show tickets at a radio station. This gets old fairly quickly, but thankfully it's replaced by something better: yet another catfight, this time with a woman getting pounded who happens to be drunk and pregnant. How ghetto!

Now for the payoff: Murphy is back, and it's time for the most cynical sermon since Jerry Falwell breathed his last.

"How can we fight the power if we're fighting each other?" Murphy asks.

Yes, folks, BET's new show is really all about its message. It's right there in its title: We Got to Do Better.

"I just wish we didn't have so much material," Murphy says, with all the sincerity of Hugh Hefner uttering the words "I just wish we didn't have so many breasts to photograph!"

Of course, we've seen this before. Every videoclip television producer, fearing the wrath of censors and advertisers, apparently feels compelled to apologize for showing us what we really wanted to see in the first place.

In BET's case, we get Murphy telling us that his show is a "guide how not to act." But we know that's crap. Like the website the show is based on, hotghettomess.com, we're drawn to it because there's nothing like a video of a hooker cold-cocking her pimp. You just don't see that every day.

We Got to Do Better is one of five new shows that debuted this summer as part of another major transformation for the 27-year-old Black Entertainment Television. The last came in 2000, when the network was purchased by media giant Viacom and moved its studios from Washington, D.C., to New York. But hopes that the move would mean more investment and better production values faded as the channel devoted more time than ever to ass-shaking music videos.


From chief critic to entertainment president: Reggie Hudlin
BET Networks
This time, BET was supposed to get things right. With the endorsement of black moralizers (it's been rumored that even Bill Cosby and Oprah Winfrey weighed in), BET's CEO, Debra Lee, took a chance on a new entertainment president, production veteran Reggie Hudlin. New shows were planned. There would be less emphasis on music videos and reruns, and more shows and series were purchased as well as produced in-house. And in the wake of the Don Imus debacle, BET watchers were even hearing chatter that the network would be riding the new emphasis on "decency." Finally, BET would be a network that all black people could be proud of.

Last month, the new shows debuted. By then, Hot Ghetto Mess had kicked up so much controversy that the network changed its name at the last minute, but not in time for Murphy to be retaped—We Got to Do Better still shows its host constantly referring to the program by its old name.

And after an episode ended on a recent Sunday night, D.L. Hughley came on in another of the new shows, titled S.O.B. (for "Socially Offensive Behavior"). The night's opening segment in this latest twist on Candid Camera, Hughley tells us, is about interracial dating, and will feature a black man picking up a white woman in front of several unsuspecting black women at a bar—and doing it while complaining loudly that African-American ladies are "Nubian nuisances." Imagine their outrage!

"A player wouldn't mind dipping into snow once in a while," Hughley explains with a grin.

It's hard to imagine that this is what Winfrey had in mind.

Naturally, the new shows have raised a hue and cry from the usual suspects, black groups that somehow never run out of outrage over what's playing on BET.

Truth is, however, that Hudlin is sort of a genius. And the new shows? Kind of addictive.

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