Black Reflections: BET 1980-2010

Memories from 30 years of Black Entertainment Television...

Jun 13th

What Alex Haley Taught Me About Writing & The Artist Way

By Maxie Collier

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Me, author Alex Haley, and camera operator Darryl Player, after Mr. Haley's appearance on Our Voices, 1991. He passed away the next year. Photo courtesy of Darryl Player.

During my seven years working full-time and freelance at BET, I can't begin to count the number of celebrities and VIPs I encountered over those years.

It still seems like moments ago when I was taking Mrs. Rosa Park's hand and helping her off of the stage after an episode of the talk show Our Voices. Or, when the young Fugees performed on Teen Summit and kicked into some great Bob Marley freestyles- right after the live show ended, and a couple of years before they blew-up with The Score album.

Or, when George Clinton and Bootsy Collins talked about their process recording the song Flashlight, a staple of my childhood funk diet. Putting the mic on President Bill Clinton, while BET founder Bob Johnson and a room full of Secret Service people watched. And volumes of other recollections.

But even among these many episodes, there are several moments, individuals, and conversations that have impacted me far deeper than others. One of those wonderful, unhurried dialogues was with the late author Alex Haley.

As the child of Southern writers and Black activists, I grew up hearing the name Alex Haley as far back as I can recall. First, because of his  work on the Autobiography of Malcolm X, then later as a result of his book Roots and the milestone TV series it produced.

However, our connection on that relaxed evening, following a taping of Our Voices, started with me saying "Mr. Haley, my name is Maxie Collier, I'm a writer,  and my family is also from Tennessee."

He stopped and replied with a smile "How nice, I know a lot of Collier history in Tennessee."

We talked more about my family, his family, and our Southern heritages. Then I asked him "Can you tell me about your writing process... how do you manage to get such comprehensive works completed?"

He started off by telling my about his decades in the Coast Guard and the writing habits he developed being away at sea for so many years. He said that even after his Coast Guard years, he would take long trips on merchant ships. Not the all you can eat/drink/sleep cruise ships, but the commercial cargo ships that rented unglamorous, low cost rooms for long transcontinential voyages. He said he spent much time alone and away from people, while focusing on his research and manuscripts.
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The US Coast Guard ship Alex Haley, named in honor of the late writer and 30 year Coast Guard veteran.

I immediately recognized a similar pattern in my own life. Growing up in a house full of family members, I had started sneaking away on the commuter buses from Columbia, MD to DC, at thirteen and fourteen years old, trekking on my own to the Library of Congress, museums, National Archives, and Howard University's Library, trying to claim quiet time and feed my appetite for knowledge and adventures.

Then by seventeen, I made my first of many voyages across the country on a Greyhound bus, writing and chronicling the stories and people I encountered.  A habit that still continues today.

But at the time and prior to my conversation with Mr. Haley,  I was often told and felt that my trips were aimless and that  I " should be focusing my time and energy" on more traditional pursuits, in more conventional manners.

However, that moment and those words with Mr. Haley helped me understand that the artist way is rarely conventional and often filled with days, weeks, and stretches alone, in our works, our words, and our worlds... prior to gifting the outcomes to those who may or may not receive it.

My brief but memorable encounter with Alex Haley, helped my feel far more assured and far less misunderstood. When he died, a few months after this meeting, I was grateful for the opportunity to speak with him and the spirit, words, and graciousness that he bestowed to me.
Jun 13th

Momma Look At Me, I Work At BET!

By Maxie Collier

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Some of BET's "Teen Summit" Crew, on set in the early 90's - Me, Elise Perry, James Stubbs, Karen Cromwell, William Harper, Tim Brown, Sylvia Reis, and Dave G. Most of us were in our early - mid 20's. BET helped launch the careers of many young, African-Americans, working behind the scenes in professional television.

By December 1989, my brothers and I had been publishing our magazine, Black Reflections, for more than two years. It hadn't made us any money but it taught us about production and provided an opportunity to conduct our first interviews. One of these interviews was with a rapper named Redhead Kingpin. We interviewed him in the parking lot of Black Entertainment Television (BET), a national cable TV channel based in Washington, DC. It was my first time there at the facility.

After that,  on several occassions, I drove and sat in the McDonald's parking lot next to the building, imagining all that was going on inside.

By this time, I was a student at Howard University, stumbling thru business classes while living and partying at the lovely new co-ed residence, the Howard Towers.  I was pretty much in school for social activities, but yearning for more.

It was during the holiday break, at our father's annual Kwanzaa party,  that I had the good fortune to meet one of my magazine’s subscribers, Dr. Bruce Marshall. As fate would have it, he happened to be the Chief of Engineering for BET!

After plucking Dr. Marshall’s head with a bunch of questions about TV production, I asked him if he could hook me up with an internship at BET. To my surprise and delight, he offered me a part-time job, primarily on the basis of the work I had done with my magazine.

I was twenty-one when I started my gig at BET. My first job was as a part-time teleprompter operator. It was a paper pushing job-- literally. I had to tape script pages together, then rolled them through an old mechnical teleprompter, as it was read by the on air talent.

I’d occasionally have to use my writing skills to make changes on the script. I wore headphones, which allowed me to follow everything going on in the control room, as well as watch the way the talent, camera operators, lighting crew, and sound people moved about in the studio.

I worked a four hour evening shift but only operated the prompter for a one minute news report during each hour. The free time gave me an opportunity to learn TV production on the job by watching the other programs being produced. Taking the same approach I used to learn computers and desktop publishing, I also read all that I could about TV production.

I developed a reputation for asking questions and practicing on the equipment in the studio and control rooms. The producers, talent, technicians and directors at BET shared their experiences with me. A few months later, I was offered a full-time job as a floor director. Much to my academically minded, mother’s dismay, I quit school and took the job.

During that period, there was a resurgence of Hollywood interest in African-American films. In addition to Spike Lee, many other directors such as Robert Townsend (“Hollywood Shuffle”); the Hudlin Brothers (“House Party”, “Bommerang”); Doug McHenry and his partner, the late George Jackson (“New Jack City”); Bill Duke (“A Rage In Harlem”) and John Singleton (“Boy’s In The Hood”) would visit BET to promote their projects. As well as countless other business leaders, writers, recording artists, movie and TV stars.

As a floor director and stage manager, I was responsible for attending to the needs these folks when they were in the studio during rehearsal, during, and immediately following shows. This provided me many chances to ask questions about TV, filmmaking and showbiz. Eventually, I started to believe that I could do it myself. And soon I did... I had found my career.

Nov 12th

The BETAN Website Content & Privacy Policy

By Maxie Collier
PRIVACY & CONTENT POLICY SUMMARY
  1. BETAN retains the rights to block or ban members.
    This is includes disruptive individuals or those who are not former and current Black Entertainment Television employees, contractors, and talent.

  2. Your Profile Can Be Set Public or Private
    However, site administrators and moderators can view, edit, ban, or delete all profiles.

  3. Private Messages Can Only Be Read by the Recipients 
    The Social Go networking platform powering BETAN does not allow site administrators or moderators to read private messages sent between BETAN members.

  4. Moderators and administrators have the rights to delete any media or posting. Including videos, photos, audio files, blogs, events, and forum messages offensive to the community's goals and tone.

  5. We Will Not Rent/Sell Your Personal Data 
    Third Cousins Media, The BET Alumni Network, nor Maxie Collier will not rent or sell the public and private personal data in your profiles, including email addresses and contact information, to a third party. We do retain the right to transfer this information in the sale of the site to a new owner or management company. 

  6. Full Disclosure
    We will explicitly identify any business or affiliate relationships when referencing or promoting other products and services from other individuals, businesses, or organizations.

  7. You Own Your Content
    While it would be good habit for us all to put copyright notices on our blogs and forum postings we publish anywhere on the web, on the BETAN site you have copyright and ownership of any original works or media you publish on the website.

  8. Promoting & Selling On the Site
    As entrepreneurs and freelancers, promoting our own products and services is a natural requirement of our job descriptions. There are several ways you can promote on BETAN:

    1. Your Profile
      Add a list of your services, your contact information, bios, business cards, promotional videos, paypal buttons or embed shopping carts like http://www.cartfly.com and http://www.shopit.com

    2. Blogs & Events
      Post news, information, references, press releases, and event listings

    3. Forums

    4. Groups

    5. Videos

  9. Public Conflicts And Disputes
    Let's be real. In any collective there are going to be cliques and subsets with diverse experiences and mentalities. And there are often old and new issues and beefs as a result. BETAN blogs, comments, and forums are not platforms for public conflicts or disputes. Feel free to set-up a private group and hash it out there.

Oct 15th

BETAN Mission Statement

By Maxie Collier

MISSION STATEMENT

The mission of the Black Entertainment Television Alumni Network (BETAN) is to:

  1. Provide an inspiring and productive social networking community for former and current Black Entertainment Television employees, contractors, and talent.

  2. To provide valuable and empowering information and resources to the community. 

  3. To stimulate individual and collective, independent Urban media productions and ventures.

WHAT IS BETAN?

  • A reunion website;

  • An information and resources hub;

  • An Urban media development, production, management, marketing support platform;

  • A community service vehicle.

PREMISE

The members of the BETAN community have routinely produced hundreds of thousands of hours and decades of professional Urban television, media products, and services.  The value of which grows as new media platforms take the lead. Why not independently produce and profit from content, using the same skills sets and practices, while retaining portions of ownership?

Oct 5th

New Job Board Added to the Site!

By Maxie Collier

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I have added a new job board feature to the BET Alumni website. The service pulls job listings from sites across the web and consolidates them. You will see the latest job listings on the side of the the site homepage or you can access the job board via the jobs tab at the top of the page, after you login.

You can also add your own freelance, part-time, or full-time jobs. The regular rate is $5 for 30 days.


Sep 29th

In Appreciation of All My BET Folks... Out of Sight But Not Out Of Mind.

By Maxie Collier

For so much of the past decade I have been consumed with my entrepreneurial and independent media projects, travel, writing, research, and development. I often think of the old joint by Stinky Dink- "1 man 100 dollas and a one track mind...!

As the time has flown by, children have grown-up, good friends and family have passed on, and our world has become so radically different... for better and for worse.

During this period I have been blessed to work and dialogue with so many talented artists, entrepreneurs, technicians. Here in the US, as well as Europe and West Africa. I've conducted and produced interviews with nearly 200 celebrities and executives. All the while giving mental thanks to my many friends and mentors from BET who schooled me on the arts, crafts, business for the seven years I worked there full-time and freelance.

There are countless lessons I learned from passionate, talented veterans like Larry Holland, Waymer Johnson, Dr. Bruce Marshall, Bev Smith, Donnie Simpson, Ed Gordon, Stuart Rivchin, Debra Tang (RIP) and James Bolling (RIP) others.  As well as all the inspiration and examples I saw in my ambitious peers, like my homegirl Elise Perry, my road dog Brian Harris, OG Dave Grain, Lathan Hodge, Keith Pascall, Billie Woodruffe, Keith Lawson, Lisa Johnson, Madeline Woods, and so many more.

The fact is, though I have been a social recluse for much of the past decade, there is not a week that passes where I don't think about my BET compradres. Or, see a name in the news or credits, of former co-workers who have moved on to do bigger and better things. This website is my way of starting to give back to everyone of you.

Despite the many legitimate frustrations and dissappointments of BET's employees and consumers, those of us who started or advanced our careers at the network know that the company has created countless opportunities for people who might not have never been able to otherwise get a foot in the door of a national TV network. Or, even local TV for that matter. Especially not living in the Washington, DC area.

And for that I thank Bob johnson, BET, and all of you. I look forward to reconnecting and building with many of my peoples.

Please enjoy the site, help spread the word, and e-mail me with your feedback or suggestions.

Respectfully,

Maxie Dayrron Collier- Sept. 30, 2008

http://www.mdcmultimedia.com

maxie@mdcmultimedia.com

951-790-2576

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