As Sinclair Broadcast Group nears the finish line for its acquisition of Tribune Broadcasting, the company is taking its programming future into its own hands.
On March 5, Sinclair will launch a four-week test of a new talk show, The Raw Word, to be hosted by Dr. Michael Eric Dyson. Dyson will be joined by Dr. Dan Ratner, with whom he’s done The Ratner Dyson Podcast for about a year, and Real Housewives cast member Claudia Jordan. Ice- T, musician and star of NBC’s Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, and Andre Jetmir, president of Ice-T’s Final Level Productions, are executive producing, with Ice-T planning to make a few appearances on the program.
The show plans to take advantage of this cultural moment, aiming directly at the African-American audience that over-indexes in daytime television.
“African-Americans deserve a host that approaches them,” said Dyson, a best-selling New York Times author with 20 books to his name. He’s also well-connected, counting stars such as Ludacris, Jay-Z and Drake among his friends, and having penned the foreword to Beyoncé’s Lemonade coffee-table book.
Echoing Audience Concerns
“[This audience is] concerned about what most of America is concerned about,” Dyson said. “They want to make a significant impact while they are alive and they want to make a meaningful existence even more meaningful. I want to address those issues but pay special attention to black folks who haven’t always felt they had an ally on screen.”
Ice-T said the time is right for the show the team has planned, which will take on big topics with humor and intellectual rigor.
“Dyson is a funny, funny man, although you rarely see this side of him,” Jetmir said. “Is this audience ready to be challenged? With everything that’s happening in politics, this audience really has migrated to news and issues-oriented programming.”
Ice-T is not foreign to the world of daytime talk. In the summer of 2015, he and his wife Coco hosted their own talk test, Ice & Coco, which was produced by Warner Bros.’ Telepictures and aired on the Fox Television Stations. Ratings indicated the show could go forward, but limited time periods and the simultaneous arrival of Harry Connick Jr. — whose Harry was picked up by the Fox stations — blocked its path.
In retrospect, Ice-T said that might have been “a blessing in disguise. I was going to be stretched so thin. To do a daily talk show and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit was going to be hard.”
But the experience also showed him what is possible in daytime TV. He already had a long relationship with Dyson, who had been a guest on Ice & Coco.
“I said to Andre, ‘We can go back into this area but we need someone to host it,’” Ice-T said. “Michael Eric Dyson was the best person in my opinion. I wanted an intellectual.”
Asked whether he thinks the daytime audience wants to listen to smart takes on serious topics, Ice-T said, “I don’t really care what they want. I’ll give it to them and they might decide they want it or they might not. As black people, we need to get down and talk about some things. It’s very important that every other word isn’t a joke.”
Dyson has the cred. He appears frequently as a contributor on MSNBC and he’s also an opinion writer for The New York Times. That’s also why the team named the show The Raw Word.
“We wanted to keep it real but we also want it to be transparent,” Dyson said. “We want to be raw, to be off the cuff and to tell the truth straightforwardly. We want to be able to give a gut punch or take one, to give our interpretation of the world and then ask others to engage with us.”
Taking on Trolls
A world filled with Twitter trolls and truth-deniers doesn’t deter Dyson: “I’ve got 355,000 followers on Twitter. Some get upset at what I say, while others appreciate what I do. I get death threats and hate mail. I’m built for that and I’m prepared for it. I don’t want to be egregious, offensive or flagrantly hurtful to anyone, but if I challenge narrow-mindedness and have the chance to prevail, so be it.”
But it won’t be all serious issues, truth-telling and big topics, he said.
“It’s still a daytime talk show so we won’t be getting so heavy all the time but we will fight back against the mendacity … that this [presidential] administration seems addicted to.
“It’s a great time to be black, American, alive and grappling with the possibilities before us, to embrace fully what we see going on because we’ve seen so much trauma and tragedy,” Dyson added.
The Raw Word with Dr. Michael Eric Dyson will air March 5 through March 30 on Sinclair stations in 16 markets, including WPNT Pittsburgh at 2 p.m., WRDC Raleigh, N.C., at 2 p.m. and WUTB Baltimore at 10 a.m.