BET adds spiritual themes to primetime
By CYNTHIA LITTLETON in Variety
New telepic franchise, reality show have religious touch
BET TV, like a number of general entertainment cablers, has renewed faith in spiritually themed programming.
The Viacom-owned cabler is expanding the range of shows that it carries with overtly spiritual and religious themes, beyond its traditional focus on gospel music series and specials into narrative telepics, talkshows and reality skeins. The subject matter resonates strongly with the BET audience, execs say, and undoubtedly there’s a hope of drawing new viewers who might not otherwise sample BET fare. As part of the push, BET has optioned the rights to four novels by author Reshonda Tate Billingsley with plans for a telepic franchise produced with Queen Latifah’s Flavor Unit production banner.
The first of the four Billingsley adaptations, Let the Church Say Amen, is starting production this week in Atlanta (Daily Variety, Aug. 24). Steve Harris and Lela Rochon have been cast in the story of a larger-than-life pastor who has to come to terms with his dysfunctional family and wayward daughter. Naturi Naughton, Collins Curtis Pennie and Hosea Chanchez co-star.
The other Billingsley titles optioned are “I Know I’ve Been Changed,” “Everybody Say Amen” and “Say Amen Again.”
BET has also just shot a pilot for a talkshow hosted by Bishop T.D. Jakes. And it has a docu-reality series following Detroit’s Sheard family, which includes multiple generations of gospel music stars and Bishop J. Drew Sheard, who leads a megachurch in Motor City.
BET has long featured gospel music programs on its Sunday morning slate…