BOB GARFIELD: Last week Radio One and Comcast announced plans for a new cable television channel targeted at African-American audiences. According to the Washington Post, Radio One CEO Alfred Liggins III wasn't the only player trying to put a deal together. Russell Simmons was interested and so was Tim Reid. You may know Reid as Venus Flytrap from WKRP in Cincinnati or more recently as the father on Sister, Sister. He is an actor, writer, director, producer and studio owner with a long list of credits and awards. Tim Reid joins me now on the phone from his home in Petersburg, Virginia to discuss his commitment to diversity and quality in programming aimed at African-Americans. Tim Reid, welcome to the show!
TIM REID: Thank you! Thank you.
BOB GARFIELD: First of all, did you have any part in the Comcast/Radio One deal?
TIM REID: Oh, we were aware of it, and we're certainly awaiting discussions when it gets to our point and our phase and interest and that is in original content.
BOB GARFIELD: Well what do you think of the deal as it's structured -- in rough terms, Comcast has put up 70 million dollars and Radio One has put up 60 million dollars. While they say they're not aiming to compete with Black Entertainment Television, BET is the only African-American cable channel out there. How does it look to you?
TIM REID: Well I think, as you said before, I'm certainly one of the many people who are interested in seeing another channel aimed at a different segment of the black population. You know, BET-- what that channel is aimed at in terms of the audience is a younger demographics -- it's more of a hip hop culture, and I think it's missing an entire segment of the population that I hoped and what I've been trying and asking for is more attention paid to the black middle class and working class -- people who are over 25 years of age - the people who give the money to the kids who go out and buy the hip hop paraphernalia. There's very little entertainment aimed at them anywhere -- forget, you know, picking out just one channel, BET, but any channel! There's just very little aimed at them. And that's the audience that I think is neglected, and that's the audience that I'm interested in. That's why I came here and built a studio. That's why I've tried to create programming -if you look at Frank's place or links -it certainly wasn't aimed at a lower level in terms of lower view of comedy or broad -- it was aimed at a, a thinking kind of audience --someone who wanted to see their culture expressed in many different ways. So that's kind of why I'm excited about this possibility, and I like the targeted audience that the network has, has-- Alfred and Comcast has said that they're going for.
BOB GARFIELD: Well BET has taken a lot of criticism over the years for the booty-shaking content [LAUGHTER] and for its fixation on younger viewers and of - and most recently for diminishing the amount of its broadcast day that it devotes to news and public affairs programming.
TIM REID: Right.
BOB GARFIELD: On the other hand, the entire world of marketing, the advertising community, is fixated only on the 15 to 24 year old. If this network ever materializes, there will be 130 million dollars investment in it --between Comcast and Radio One. Is it a good business plan to aim at exactly the target audience -- 25 to 54 year olds that Madison Avenue has shown its disinclination to support?
TIM REID: [LAUGHS] Well you know these are the kind of questions that I think over the years have frustrated me, because was it a good investment to create Bravo? Was it a good investment to create the Biography Channel, the E! Entertainment -- I mean all these different channels that are aimed at demographics that's not as large as the massive audience always seemed to be a good idea. These audiences are smaller than the audience that we're talking about, but nobody seems to question that. Our Hispanic brothers have done extremely well. There are 5 nationally dedicated channels aimed at the 37 million audience that we talk about now as being now the largest minority. We're still 36 million or so in terms of black population, and we're not even talking about buying power in terms of dollars spent and loyalty to television viewership. We're larger than just about any segment based on our proportion of population. And yet whenever we talk about breaking our segment down beyond just the young hip hop crowd, it seems to be ill-advised or -- is there an audience? Of course there's an audience! Just as much as there's an audience for the Golf Channel or the Weather Channel.
BOB GARFIELD: I want to talk to you for a moment about ownership. I don't know if you saw the Washington Post story that quoted Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, but in the story he is quoted as saying that the deal is quote "absolutely outrageous" because it denies African-American entrepreneurs the control of their own destiny. He's referring to the fact that Comcast, which has contributed slightly more than Radio One -the black owned media company -- that Comcast would retain business control over the combined concern. Does that trouble you?
TIM REID: To start a network in today's world takes quite a bit of money. You have to get that money from the business world, and people are not just going to put their money in and not want to have some say so about how it's run. It's easy to sit back and criticize, but you gotta step to the plate! Who in the world can do it? I mean it takes hundreds of millions of dollars! So to belabor that point, I think, is such a, a waste of time that we should be focused on, you know, whether it's NBC or CBS or BET -- decent programming that deals with the culture of its audience! That's missing, and I think that's where the argument should be.
BOB GARFIELD: Tim Reid, thank you very much.
TIM REID: Thank you.
BOB GARFIELD: Tim Reid is an actor, director, producer and studio head. He joined me from his home in studios in Petersburg, Virginia.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Coming up, one town's grisly murder seen in black and white, and foreign cinema's uphill climb.