Alicia Keys was a surprise guest at the BET Upfront 2016 on April 20 in New York City as she was announced as the first entertainer at the 2016 BET Awards to be held on June 26 in Los Angeles, California. She performed solo with an acoustic piano at Rose Hall of Jazz at Lincoln Center, opening with her cover of the Prince song, “How Come You Don’t Call Me,” from her 2001 debut album, Songs in A Minor (Prince passed away the following day). The seven-time BET Awards recipient followed with a brand new song, “Hallelujah,” and closed with her Grammy Award winning single from 2004, “If I Ain’t Got You,” which she dedicated to BET and everyone in the audience.
The theme of the event was The Power of More, and the network introduced several new programs. BET President of Programming Stephen G. Hill announced a three part original BET movie, New Edition: The Movie, and was joined by all six members of the group. Ronnie DeVoe reflected on seeing their story on screen, saying,”It means we stood the test of time. We are still here,” He continued. “We smell the roses while we are living.” Michael Bivens commented, “This is the story for this generation. You have The Jacksons, you have The Temptations.” He added. “Get ready for a roller coaster ride.” Bobby Brown appeared separately from the group and said, “I am extremely excited. Is my life everything I dreamed of.” The casting will include Bryshere Y. Gray from Empire who will portray Bivens, Grammy nominee Luke James as Johnny Gill, and Elijah Kelley from The Wiz Live! will star as Ricky Bell.
BET Chairman and CEO Debra L. Lee announced that the network has signed a new deal to continue the legacy of the late Don Cornelius. “We just acquired Soul Train (created by Cornelius), the Soul Train cruise, concert series, and Soul Train Broadway musical,” she said. “We are so thrilled to bring this iconic brand to BET.”
It was also revealed that the network is developing a Nelson Mandela biopic called Madiba starring Laurence Fishburne. The actor commented via video, “I was extremely honored to be asked to play Nelson Mandela.” Production is currently underway in Johannesburg, South Africa with Kevin Hooks directing.
The new series announced include a first for BET, a Caucasian actor in a lead role. Veteran comedian Gary Owen (Think Like A Man, Think Like A Man Too) will star in the reality show, Gary Owen Family. about his life with an African-American wife and three children. He stated he was extremely grateful for the opportunity. “I have come full circle,” he told the audience. “BET gave me my first break on TV in Comic View (1992).”
BET will keep the laughs coming with Comedy Get Down, a show capturing behind the scenes of a comedy tour starring George Lopez, DL Hughley, Cedric the Entertainer, Eddie Griffin and Charlie Murphy. Lopez explained the concept developed when they were paying tribute to one of their idols. “We got together to raise money to finish the statue for Richard Pryor in Peoria, Illinois,” he stated, “Then we decided to take it on the road.”
Another new series, Music Moguls, will examine the lives of four hip-hop icons: Birdman, Dame Dash, Jermaine Dupri, and Snoop Dogg. Birdman said the show will reveal the commitment required to succeed in the music industry. “It is time to show the world of hip-hop,” he commented. “Show you the hard word that it takes. The dedication to accomplish this.” Dupri added, “People miss the work that goes into this, that goes into making an artist,” He continued, “It will be interesting to see us take an artist from 0-100.”
BET also announced several more new shows, including Tales (a scripted anthology series of stories inspired by classic hip-hop songs), The Yard (set at a historically black college starring Tony Award winner Anika Noni Rose), Rebel ( a police drama executive produced by John Singleton), Joyful Noise (a gospel show hosted by Grammy Award winner Tye Tribbett), Queen Bee (a reality competition for female entrepreneurs), and Monica Morton P.I. (a true story about a private detective in Atlanta, Georgia who specializes in assisting celebrities in crisis).