Robert Johnson

Network Creator / Executive


The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation Presents

02:26

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About
About this interview

In his one-and-a-half-hour Archive interview, Robert Johnson discusses his early years in Washington, D.C. as Vice President of Government Relations for the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) during the rise of the cable industry following government deregulation. He recalls his concept for a cable network targeted at African-American viewers and his efforts to secure funding for the proposed BET (Black Entertainment Television) network. He credits John Malone's initial funding and Malone's association with the fledgling network with opening doors to cable providers nationwide. He concludes by speaking about the tremendous growth of the network, culminating with the acquisition of BET by Viacom in 2000 and his then-pending retirement slated for January, 2006. Karen Herman conducted the interview on September 15, 2005 in Washington, D.C.

"The public reaction to BET was very positive. African-Americans had always wanted a network that provided content directly to them on a targeted basis, a chance to showcase their creativity, and to talk about issues of primary concern to them."

Highlights
Robert Johnson on starting BET
03:39
Robert Johnson on BET's first broadcast
02:03
Robert Johnson on coming up with the name BET
01:36
Robert Johnson on BET running 24 hours/day and his programming strategy
03:18
Robert Johnson on Viacom's acquisition of BET
05:01
Full Interview

Chapter 1

On his early life and influences; on observing the Civil Rights Movement as a child; on his time at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting
On working as a congressional aide; on being a lobbyist for the cable industry; on early cable programming

Chapter 2

On starting BET; on John Malone's role in financing BET and the network's first broadcast; on BET's advertising and coming up with the name for the network
On BET's early staff; on his leadership qualities; on early BET programming; on BET's programming strategy

Chapter 3

On BET's news coverage; on Viacom's acquisition of BET; on the then-future of BET
On his influence on the television industry; on the power of television and the government's role in regulation; on his advice to aspiring network creators; on television and the black community
Topics

Civil Rights Movement

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Robert Johnson on his observations of the Civil Rights Movement when he was a child
01:01

Diversity in Television

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Robert Johnson on broadcast networks and the black community
01:37

Media Consolidation

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Robert Johnson on Viacom's acquisition of BET
05:01

Minorities

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Robert Johnson on broadcast networks and the black community
01:37

Network Creation

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Robert Johnson on starting BET
03:39
Robert Johnson on John Malone's role in creating BET
02:51
Robert Johnson on the early business plan and promotional activity of BET
02:35
Robert Johnson on coming up with the name BET
01:36

Television Industry

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Robert Johnson on the early reaction of broadcast networks to cable
02:26
Robert Johnson on starting BET
03:39
Robert Johnson on John Malone's role in creating BET
02:51
Robert Johnson on the early business plan and promotional activity of BET
02:35
Robert Johnson on coming up with the name BET
01:36
Robert Johnson on Viacom's acquisition of BET
05:01
Professions

Cable Executive

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Robert Johnson on his advice to an entrepreneur interested in starting a network
01:41

Executives

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Robert Johnson on his and Debra Lee's leadership at BET
01:35
Robert Johnson on his advice to an entrepreneur interested in starting a network
01:41

Network Founder

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Robert Johnson on his and Debra Lee's leadership at BET
01:35
Robert Johnson on his advice to an entrepreneur interested in starting a network
01:41
Genres

Awards Shows

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Robert Johnson on the BET Awards and BET's internet presence
01:24
People

Debra Lee

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Robert Johnson on his and Debra Lee's leadership at BET
01:35
Robert Johnson on his early BET staff and his leadership qualities
02:30

John Malone

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Robert Johnson on John Malone's role in creating BET
02:51

Sumner M. Redstone

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Robert Johnson on Viacom's acquisition of BET
05:01

O. J. Simpson

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Robert Johnson on BET's news coverage and covering big stories 
03:53

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