Wow! This is significant and can’t be good for BET, losing a creative team that has, in essence, helped revitalize the network’s programming offerings ("The Game" and, most recently, "Being Mary Jane"), as well as its overall reputation.
Announced this afternoon, Salim and Mara Brock Akil are effectively saying goodbye to BET, and setting up shop at Warner Bros. Television (WBTV). The husband-wife creative duo have inked a multiple-year overall deal with the WB via their Akil Productions, which will begin in May 2016, which also happens to be when their agreement with with BET ends. You might recall that, last fall (2014) the Akils extended their then 3-year agreement with the network through 2016.
As a result of today’s news, Mara Brock Akil will transition from showrunner of BET’s number one program, “Being Mary Jane,” to become "executive consultant" on the series instead; meaning a new showrunner will be named. Although, quite frankly, I wouldn’t at all be surprised if "Being Mary Jane" is eventually canceled, without Brock Akil’s full involvement; after all, she created it! It’s her baby.
It’s also timely as the other Akil production, "The Game," wraps up its run on BET, with its series finale airing tonight, August 5.
I have to wonder what BET’s plans are to replace the couple. I was under the impression that they would be to BET what Shonda Rhimes has become for ABC; or even what Tyler Perry has become for OWN. I expected a long term relationship, as they work together with BET brass to turn the network around, and build a cable TV powerhouse aimed at black audiences specifically. But I imagine this new deal at Warner Bros will provide them with the flexibility to diversify their efforts, as well as extend their reach. Although exact terms of the agreement aren’t revealed in any report I’ve come across; but as with past similar agreements, it will likely see the pair create TV content that will be produced and distributed via WBTV, which could land on any number of networks. For example, WBTV, itself part of Time Warner, serves as a television production arm of The CW Television Network, but also produces shows for other networks, such as "Shameless" on Showtime and "The Leftovers" on HBO (though Time Warner also owns HBO). An Akil Productions series on HBO certainly would be a good look, as the saying goes.
Keep in mind that BET is owned by Viacom, so this is a significant move – not just away from BET, but from Viacom. The Akils could’ve certainly been retained by the media conglomerate, in a similar kind of deal they just inked with the WB, which would’ve seen them create content for Viacoms various properties, meaning they wouldn’t be relegated to BET alone. I mention that because, Viacom and its key TV properties are in the middle of a "midlife crisis" as a report I read on Bloomberg news a month ago, put it. In short, while the company was busy suing YouTube for copyright infringement, its competitors, like Disney for example, was buying up all the hot properties (Marvel, Pixar, "Star Wars," etc). The so-called MTV generation is older now, and no longer watches, as that network, once a jewel within Viacom’s media empire, is of really little influence now. After I read Bloomberg’s report, my immediate thought was that, BET may inevitably become Viacom’s salvation, since the network, seemingly undergoing a radical makeover, has a lot of potential ahead of it (it’s just getting started in terms of original scripted programming, and there’s a significant black audiences hungry for varied representations of themselves on the small and big screens), compared to Viacom’s other top holdings – MTV and VH1 notably – whose best days may be behind them.
But I’m certainly not sitting in on meetings in the various network executive suites, so there’s probably plenty going on that I’m not aware of. Things aren’t looking particularly great on the surface, however. Check out the Bloomberg report here.
Prior to “Mary Jane” and “The Game,” Brock Akil created “Girlfriends,” which ran on the then-UPN, followed by the CW. Akil directed the Whitney Houston film “Sparkle” and “Jumping the Broom,” both for Sony Pictures.
And so it goes… Congratulations to the Akils on this move.