What’s on your DVR? Billions, Killing Eve and Black Monday.
What is your all-time favorite TV show? Being Mary Jane
What’s your favorite podcast? Still Processing, a culture podcast from The New York Times.
What is your bucket list travel destination? Angkor Wat, the Seventh Wonder of the World.
What book is on your nightstand? Becoming by Michelle Obama
BET executive VP and head of original programming Connie Orlando is currently spearheading the African-American targeted network’s most aggressive push into original programming in its 39-year history.
With at least 10 original films, five scripted series and two unscripted series currently slated to air on the Viacom-owned network in 2019, Orlando wants to give BET’s core audience quality, original fare and more shows featuring people of color both in front of and behind the camera.
BET also is gearing up for new scripted projects from such high-profile producers as Will Packer and Tyler Perry, and is focusing on being an advocate for socioeconomic issues through unscripted fare like Finding Justice — which exposes inequality in black communities across America — in hopes of further cementing the network’s place as a leading content brand for African- American viewers.
Orlando recently spoke with senior content producer R. Thomas Umstead. The conversation has been edited for space and style reasons.
What is BET’s strategy for developing original content? I think the strategy is to use iconic IP [intellectual property] that resonates with our audience. We’ve partnered with creative people, including Will Packer and Tyler Perry, for content that’s coming up and we’re synergizing internally and doing things with our sister companies. We’re doing some things in partnership with Paramount [Network], like Boomerang. We’re just trying to mine the field for all of these nuggets and maximize it all.
When you speak about using iconic IP like the 1990s film Boomerang and American Soul — based on Soul Train — is that to draw in older viewers who were familiar with those shows or to introduce younger viewers to the classic titles? Yes to both of those. I don’t think you need to see Boomerang the movie to watch and understand Boomerang the series or have walked down the Soul Train line to appreciate American Soul. When we tell those stories, we’re very mindful of creating storylines that everyone can relate to.
How much of BET’s new original programming strategy is tied to the increased amount of African-American targeted content in the marketplace? I’m a firm believer that there’s enough room for it all. I love looking out in the marketplace at shows featuring African-American talent in front of the front of the camera telling our stories, but we remain the home for our audience. So for us it was not really about the number, but rather creating and telling stories that you may not have heard of, or telling new stories in interesting ways. What we’ve unsettled is that there’s a thirst for it, and I think as long as the content that’s coming is captivating, interesting and relatable, there’s no reason to stop it. There are millions of stories that we can and want to tell.
Why was it important for the network to tackle social-economic issues with unscripted fare? I’m so proud of shows like Finding Justice — that’s what BET is about. It is our responsibility to really shine a light on things that are impactful in our community, but also provide a platform for voices, and to create actionable things that galvanize us and help us impact change. The most important thing about Finding Justice to me is that people will see it and come together to hopefully change some things.
How do you see BET fitting into the overall strategy of parent Viacom? I think BET is a very important part of Viacom — we are a flagship network and they’ve supported us these last couple of years. I think Viacom is excited about BET, and BET is honored and excited to be in the Viacom family.