The groundbreaking work that Robert L. Johnson did in creating BET altered the face of American television forever. He established a venue for the promotion and celebration of black culture that also had an impact on mainstream popular music. Johnson's leadership and foresight were not limited to the realm of television; rather, they were exemplified by his many successful business ventures.
Johnson's foresight, tenacity, and ultimate success are emblematic of the American entrepreneur spirit. His rise from obscurity to media power highlights the progress made in the entertainment business toward racial equality and diversity.
Black Entertainment Television (BET) was founded by Robert L. Johnson, who has had a profound impact on the American entertainment industry. Johnson's establishment of BET was not only a watershed moment for the then-nascent cable television industry, but also for the larger movement for racial equality and inclusion. This article provides a detailed look at Johnson's groundbreaking career, the significant influence of BET, and his crucial role in amplifying African American voices on television by combining the in-depth reporting approach of ABC's 60 Minutes with the historical insights of the BBC.
Early Years and Profession
Robert L. Johnson was born in 1946 in Hickory, Mississippi, at a time when racial segregation was widespread. He earned his undergraduate degree from Illinois and his graduate degree in public affairs from Princeton. After that, Johnson relocated to Washington, D.C., where he started his career in television by joining the Public Broadcasting Corporation.
Johnson's establishment of BET in 1980 was a watershed moment because it was the first cable TV network with a focus on African Americans. At its inception, BET filled a niche by broadcasting a variety of music videos and repeats of hit black comedies, addressing the industry's historical neglect of African American viewers.
Increasing BET's Sway
BET's rapid rise to prominence as a showcase for black arts and entertainment may be directly attributed to Johnson's direction. The network's landmark shows, such as "106 & Park" and "Comic View," highlighted African American talent and provided content that connected with the network's core demographic.
Further confirming Johnson's place in media history was BET's 1991 listing on the New York Stock Exchange as the first black-controlled company. By the time he sold BET to Viacom in 2001, the network had grown to over 85 million viewers across the United States.
Outside the Box
Johnson has made enormous gains outside of BET as well. He made history in 2002 when he purchased the NBA's Charlotte Bobcats as the team's first black majority owner. He also established the RLJ Companies, a conglomerate with holdings in the property development, banking, and gambling industries.