ViacomCBS Launches BET Studios

ViacomCBS Sept. 15 announced the launch of BET Studios, a studio venture offering equity ownership for black content creators. Propelled by the infrastructure and financing of BET and ViacomCBS, BET Studios aims to create premium television series and films for an array of internal buyers, including Paramount+, Showtime, CBS, Nickelodeon, BET+ and BET, in addition to select third-party platforms.

BET Studios will launch with principal partners movie/TV producer Kenya Barris; actress, director, writer Rashida Jones; and screenwriter/producer Aaron Rahsaan Thomas.

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Kenya Barris, Rashida Jones and Aaron Rahsaan Thomas

 

BET Studios will operate with dedicated staff reporting to Barris, Jones and Thomas. This group will utilize the BET and larger ViacomCBS infrastructure and shared services to support day-to-day tactics.

Barris created the Netflix original comedy “#BlackAF,” and the multi-series “-ish” franchise, which includes ABC’s Peabody Award-winning sitcom “Black-ish” and spin-off series “Mixed-ish” and “Grown-ish,” which airs on Freeform. Most recently, Barris co-wrote Coming 2 America for Paramount, which licensed the movie to Amazon Prime Video.

“The demand for premium content from black creators has accelerated dramatically as a result of both the rapidly changing media and social landscapes,” Scott Mills, president of BET, said in a statement.

Black Entertainment Television was founded in 1980 by Robert L. Johnson, who later sold the company to ViacomCBS. BET ended 2015 with a reported access in 88 million U.S. pay-TV households. Johnson later bought Acorn Media and Image Entertainment, creating RLJ Entertainment, which he sold to AMC Networks.

“BET Studios is an exciting and novel extension of the storied BET brand, and we have a structure well-suited to our times to bring top talent into this production company with real ownership,” said David Nevins, chief content officer of scripted originals at Paramount, and chairman and chief executive officer of Showtime Networks.

BET Studios will be headed by Aisha Summers Burke, who was recently appointed EVP and GM of the new venture. In this role, Burke will be responsible for working collaboratively with the studio’s creative partners and key internal constituencies. Along with overseeing the day-to-day creative affairs for the company, she will also be responsible for the BET Studios content slate and focusing on growing the Studio’s production output across both internal and external platforms. Burke will report to Mills.

Prior to joining BET, Burke spent 13 years at Warner Bros. Television, most recently serving as VP of scripted television for the cable and streaming division of Warner Horizon before it merged with Warner Bros. TV in 2020.

BET in 2019 launched BET+, a SVOD service operated by Tyler Perry Studios and the BET Networks.

‘black-ish’ Creator Kenya Barris Signs Deal With Netflix

Emmy- and Golden Globe-nominated writer and producer Kenya Barris has entered into a multi-year overall deal to produce new series exclusively at Netflix.

Under the deal, Barris will write and executive produce all projects through his production company, Khalabo Ink Society.

Barris is the creator of ABC’s Peabody award-winning comedy series “black-ish” and its spin-off series “Grown-ish,” as well as the writer of last summer’s comedy feature Girls Trip.

“Barris has continually demonstrated his ability to tell stories about the Black experience that resonate with all audiences,” read a Netflix release. “With an innate sense for what is funny, truthful and timely, Barris will continue to create stories that reflect culture through an urban, youth and female focused lens.”

“Kenya Barris is one of our great modern storytellers,” said Cindy Holland, VP, original content at Netflix, in a statement. “Kenya uses his voice to make audiences more aware of the world around them, while simultaneously making them laugh. His honesty, comedic brilliance and singular point of view, combined with the creative freedom he will enjoy at Netflix, promises to create powerful new stories for all our members around the world.”

“When my agents reached out to me about this little garage start-up called Netflix, I wasn’t sure what to think,” said Barris in a statement. “But after I talked to Ted and Cindy, I started to believe that maybe this mom-and-pop shop with only 130 million subscribers might just be something… so I decided to take a swing… a leap of faith if you will, and take a chance with the new kids on the block.”

Barris was awarded the Humanitas Prize in 2017 as well as NAACP Image Awards in 2016 and 2017 for Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series and a show win for “Outstanding Comedy Series” for the fourth year in a row. In 2018 Barris premiered the spinoff series, “Grown-ish,” starring Yara Shahidi for Freeform. As a writer, Barris has worked on several television shows, including CBS’s “Listen Up”, The CW’s “The Game” and “Girlfriends,” and Fox’s “I Hate My Teenage Daughter.” He has also sold a number of pilots, including “America’s Next Top Model,” which he co-created and is currently shown in 49 countries with 21 internationally formatted offshoots, BET’s “The Start Up,” Hulu’s first half-hour comedy series “We Got Next,” and, most recently, the NBC half-hour comedy “Bright Futures.” On the feature side, in addition to writing Girls Trip, he is credited as co-writer for Barbershop 3: The Next Cut. His upcoming feature titles include Son of ShaftComing to America 2, and an animated film based on the songs of Bob Marley.