The revolution may have a chance to be televised after all, as a slew of new programming options are finding their way into the glowing rectangles we spend so much time staring into.
More than 20 years after he last played pro basketball, former Lakers star Magic Johnson is ready for a whole new game: running his own TV network.
The Hall of Famer, who has become a successful business mogul, is preparing to launch Aspire, a 24-hour channel with a focus on what Johnson called positive, uplifting images of African Americans. The basic cable outlet will join other channels targeting black viewers, such as BET and TV One, and will offer opportunities for blacks who have struggled to find work in mainstream Hollywood.
"This is so exciting for me, I'm pinching myself," Johnson said in a phone interview. "This is big for myself, for the African American community and the African American creative community. I wanted a vehicle to show positive images and to have stories written, produced and directed by African Americans for our community. Aspire — that's how I've been leading my life."
Aspire's mix will include film, TV, music and comedy, with a combination of acquired projects and original programming. "There will some performing arts and shows about faith," Johnson said.
Johnson's entry into the television arena comes courtesy of communications giant Comcast Corp. as part of its agreement with the FCC and Department of Justice to diversify the cable landscape. Comcast agreed last year to launch 10 new independently owned cable channels, with most backed by African Americans and Latinos, by 2018. Johnson's channel is scheduled to be the first.
In addition to the world champion basketball player bringing himself back to the airwaves — like a bawse — he's far from the only player looking at ethnicizing the broadcast arena.
Like Oprah Winfrey and Ryan Seacrest before him, the music mogul Sean Combs wants a spot on the cable channel lineup.
Sean Combs, shown at a benefit Feb. 18 in Las Vegas, is to start Revolt, a cable channel featuring music and news, this year.
Mr. Combs will unveil on Tuesday his plans for a music-oriented cable channel called Revolt, a public relations agency managing the announcement said Monday. The channel may start by the end of the year.
Mr. Combs will bill Revolt as a music and news television channel influenced by the nonstop chatter of social networking Web sites. It is the latest of several challenges to MTV and BET, both owned by Viacom.
Comcast, the nation's largest cable television provider, will carry Revolt on some of its local cable systems, although the total number of homes is unclear. Comcast declined to comment Monday.
When it was lobbying the government to approve its proposed acquisition of a majority stake in NBCUniversal, Comcast pledged to carry several new channels owned by minorities. The channel from Mr. Combs, who is African-American, was one of the pitches Comcast picked last year.
Time Warner Cable, the nation's second-largest cable provider, has also held discussions about carrying Revolt. Maureen Huff, a spokeswoman, said Monday that the talks were continuing.
Mr. Combs's plans for Revolt were first reported by Broadcasting & Cable magazine last month. When interviewed by a reporter for MTV recently, Mr. Combs said little about the proposed channel, except that "we're coming with a new energy, we're coming with something that people are going to want to tune in to see." Mr. Combs, also known as Diddy or P. Diddy, praised MTV and BET for "paving the way" and making him a global star.
These are just the biggest names in the discussion — there's already Bounce TV slowly spreading into more and more markets (coming to Los Angeles' KCOP this year), rumors of a broadcast package from Byron Allen and of course the online-only United Diaspora (not to mention Kin TV or Punch TV). Each one offers original programming, joining the likes of the Hughes' family's TV One and Oprah Winfrey in the determination to fulfill the promise, as the song said in Smokey and The Bandit, to "do what they say can't be done."
What does this mean for you? This means choice — advertisers value the Black dollar enough to have created a media empire for Don Cornelius and has made room for companies as disparate as Olde English and African Pride to succeed in business. Moreover, it means that a wider array of programming is possible, making jobs for actors, directors, camera people and more. Finally, it means that — at least in some markets and if you're willing to aim your browser that way — you can see more shows with people that look like you, a luxury our caucasian counterparts take for granted.
Will these new networks churn out unwatchable dreck? Of course they will — all networks do. However, for every ten College Hills they make, there's the possibility for a show like Unsung. The future has the possibility of things going better, and now we can sit back and watch it happen.