BET’s New Slate of Programming Continues to Entertain, Empower and Engage Its Audience

BET is in tune with what African-American viewers want: high-end drama and comedy, along with more refined reality and hard-hitting investigative documentary series.

On Wednesday, April 17, BET announced its upcoming slate of programming for 2018-2019, which will include all-star talent and a dramatic increase in original content.

“Creating powerful, engaging and provocative content has been BET Networks’ legacy for decades,” said Connie Orlando, Head of Programming, BET Networks. “With the increase in our original programming slate for 2019, we’re committed more than ever to telling the most compelling and authentic stories about the Black experience.”

BET Networks President Scott Mills spoke to The Hollywood Reporter ahead of the announcement to discuss the network’s reorientation toward original, scripted content.

“Our new focus is on shows that are dramatic, character-driven, aspirational and authentically anchored in the African-American experience,” said Mills.

“We are confident that content in that vein is going to allow us to more consistently pull big audiences you’ve seen us pull with The New Edition Story, the BET Awards, Being Mary Jane and The Game.”

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Here’s a look at some upcoming programming:

Paramount Pictures’ Boomerang has boomeranged back from Viacom’s deep library

Eddie Murphy’s 1992 film Boomerang is being modernized into a 30-minute comedy series, which BET will partner with Paramount TV to produce. The show mines evergreen themes from the OG film like office politics, shown through the lens of today’s culture. Expect to see plotlines develop around gender roles and the relationship between Gen-X and millennials in the workplace.

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SpongeBob SquarePants Delights Critics in Broadway Debut

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

Following an audience-wowing run in Chicago, Nickelodeon’s SpongeBob SquarePants The Broadway Musical officially landed in New York City last week, greeted by captivated fans and an ocean’s worth of critical praise.

“Skeptics better tie themselves to the mast if they want to survive this tempest of effervescent candy-for-the-spirit,” writes Vulture’s Sara Holdren. “Even if you venture into the Palace feeling Squidward  -ish, it’s a truly gloomy soul who’ll be able to leave without mirroring the dopey grin with which the show’s absorbent yellow hero responds to his buddy’s existential angst…”

The Tina Landau-directed story, in brief: while the ever-more-fiercely trembling Mount Humungous threatens to bury Bikini Bottom beneath a tsunami of lava and ash, a number of subplots playfully expose the absurdity of contemporary real-world issues in the non-animated realm in which we all dwell. Sandy the squirrel faces land-animal xenophobia from her sea fellows. Plankton’s attempts to win business through hypnosis has echoes of an online fake-news sales job. “Tidal warming” threatens to upend daily life.

With music from an all-star jukebox’s worth of musicians, a riotous set and costumes perfectly channeling the cartoon’s manic aesthetic, and a cast preternaturally suited to their undersea identities, the show is a complete work, tuned both to its obvious target audience of children and to theatergoers entranced by the spectacle of big-time Broadway productions.

Critics, many of whom expressed only a vague familiarity with the show prior to stepping into the Palace theater, were delighted. Here’s a sampling of what they liked:

The set design

Twenty years in, SpongeBob fans are well acquainted with the whimsical animated set pieces that constitute Bikini Bottom. But even long-time observers will be delighted by the maritime decor, a boldly colored and meticulously curated bazaar of pool noodles, floaty-devices, and the discarded effluvia of the consumerist human world above – shopping carts, umbrellas, surfboards and more.

“[Set designer]  David Zinn, a master designer, seems to have been fed an herb meal before devising the set and costumes that transform the noble old Palace into a trippy mindf!ck that’s equal parts Rube Goldberg and Electric Circus,” writes Deadline’s Jeremy Gerard. “I doubt there are any colors on view that exist in nature, or that you or I have seen since black light met ingested pholiotina cyanopus.”

Sesley Taylor as Sheldon Plankton (center) and company. Photo by Joan Marcus, 2017.

The costumes

Bikini Bottom is crowded with characters of odd shape and dimension, and Zinn, who in addition to set designer is also the show’s costume designer, does not try to interpret this cartoon fantasyland literally. Instead, the actors’ decidedly human-proportioned outfits match their character’s familiar color palette, evoking their essence while individual performances complete the profile.

“The production smartly shuns prosthetics to match the characters’ looks from the animated series. Instead, undersea denizens are given human form but retain telltale traits,” writes Joe Dziemianowicz in The New York Daily News. “It’s a smart decision that broadens accessibility — fans and non-fans, adults and kids.”

Pictured: The company of SpongeBob SquarePants. Photo by Joan Marcus, 2017

The music

SpongeBob’s Broadway debut packs an outsized catalogue of that key element to so many big-time stage productions: music. The play brims with songs – many of them originals created for this production – by a deep well of musicians: Yolanda Adams, Steven Tyler, Joe Perry, Sara Bareilles, Jonathan Coulton, Alex Ebert, The Flaming Lips, Lady Antebellum, Cyndi Lauper, John Legend, Panic! At the Disco, Plain White T’s, T.I., David Bowie, Tom Kenny and Andy Paley.

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SpongeBob SquarePants Follows Season 12 Renewal With Voyage to Broadway

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

The power of positive thinking has been working out pretty well lately for SpongeBob SquarePants. The eternal optimist will star in his third movie in 2019. Last month, Nickelodeon greenlit a 12th season, which will correspond with the show’s 20-year anniversary when it debuts in 2019. America’s favorite talking sponge continues to be the most popular cartoon on the block, scoring the top ratings slot among core kids demographics.

And now, there’s even more to celebrate:

The play – in which an unnamed savior rises to save Bikini Bottom from volcanic annihilation – moves east after a successful run in Chicago, landing at Broadway’s Palace Theatre, which sits just a couple blocks north of Viacom’s global headquarters in Times Square.

“We could not be more thrilled to bring Nickelodeon’s iconic SpongeBob SquarePants to the theater in an original musical conceived specifically for Broadway,” said Nickelodeon President Cyma Zarghami. “We are also incredibly honored to be in such a gorgeous house as The Palace, where audiences will be immersed in the fun and surprising world of Bikini Bottom.”

SpongeBob is pretty happy about it too:

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And so are the folks who watch Broadway for a living: “While we’ve been so excited about plenty of other great plays for kids, this one surely takes the cake,” writes Time Out New York’s Allie Early.

There’s a lot to be amped up about. The Chicago run was well-reviewed, with high praise for many of the disparate parts that seamlessly merge into a big-time stage production. Let’s take a look at a few highlights.

The story

SpongeBob has built a reputation as an all-ages crowd-pleaser, and the musical continues that tradition.

In his television review for Chicago local station WGN 9, Dean Richards observed, “Instead of kid-like dialogue,  the story is multi-layered for kids and adults. It all adds up to one of the most fun, well-produced, and best-acted shows Chicago has seen in a long time.”

And while the plot is relatively simple – a volcano is about to destroy their world, how do we save it? – the production’s subtext is ground in a greater, unnamed sophistication that addresses the issues of the larger troubled world we all actually inhabit.

Writing in the Chicago Sun-Times, Hedy Weiss noted, “Part allegory of the precarious world in which we all now dwell, and part satire on everything from the bureaucratic babble of modern-day politicians to the hunger for moneymaking, the bloated egos of pop music groups, messianic leaders and the eternal lure of stardom, the show is full of wildly energetic performers and playful, imaginative stagecraft that might best be described as one part lavish Dollar Store ingenuity, one part Cirque du Soleil and one part childlike invention.”

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Big K.R.I.T. Speaks Out, Snoop Is Honored as DJ Khaled Hosts BET Hip Hop Awards

The annual BET Hip Hop Awards celebrates and showcases the year’s best in hip-hop culture, and 2016 was no exception. From Atlanta’s Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre, the awards dished out memorable honors and performances by some of the biggest names in the industry. This year’s Hip Hop Awards, hosted by major key himself DJ Khaled, left us wanting “another one.”

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Why? Check out some highlights below, then watch the rest here.

Let’s Get Things Moving

Take notes – this is how to open a show in style. Gucci Mane performed from his ninth studio album, Everybody Looking, alongside producer Zaytoven. Joined later on stage by Young Thug, Travis Scott and Migos Quavo, the artists set the stage for the Hip Hop Awards, teaming up to perform Pick Up the Phone. Watch it here.

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