BET Scales Back on TJ Holmes’ Show

Because of low ratings, Don't Sleep will air only once a week.

T.J. Holmes (Getty Images)
T.J. Holmes (Getty Images)

Program to Air Weekly as Ratings Disappoint

BET announced Monday that it is scaling back its much-anticipated late-night, half-hour vehicle for T.J. Holmes, the former CNN anchor, from half an hour Monday through Thursday to an hour once a week.

The show launched Oct. 1. CEO Debra Lee said last month the show is “designed to be a mix of entertainment and news and commentary. We hoped it would have been a Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert-type show […]. To be honest, the ratings haven’t been great in the past two weeks. Our audience always says they want this kind of programming, but they don’t show up.”

A Nielsen spokesman told Journal-isms by email on Monday, “Don’t Sleep on BET in its normal 11 pm time slot [averages] 349,000 people [2 years old and older] tuning in to watch Live or that same day.” Stewart’s “The Daily Show” on Comedy Central, which also airs from 11 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. drew 1.6 million during the week of Oct. 29 to Nov. 2, though reruns aired on two of those nights were reruns because of Hurricane Sandy.

Lisa de Moraes reported Monday for the Washington Post, “Don’t Sleep’s” launch “averaged about 400,000 viewers on Oct. 1. And while the Oct. 9 episode approached 1 million viewers, it has never come close to that number since, and subsequent episodes have been known to slip as low as 203,000 viewers. Over its brief run to date, the show is attracting about 50 percent fewer viewers than BET had in the timeslot during the same period a year ago.”

BET built the show around the affable Holmes, who left CNN last December dissatisfied with his weekend anchor role. He told Akoto Ofori-Atta of The Root that month, “My role will be as a journalist. They brought me on because of my news background and for my news chops. I think many people in the black community would like to turn the TV on when they get home or even in the morning to see news coverage about things that matter to them, coming from people who look like them and talk like them. We have a great opportunity to do that next year, and I hope to play a huge role.”

In congratulating Holmes then, Gregory H. Lee Jr., president of the National Association of Black Journalists, likewise mentioned news. He said in a December news release, “NABJ extends our sincere congratulations to T.J. on his move to BET and [applauds] the network for reemphasizing the importance of news as part of its programming.”

However, Holmes’ show was guided by Stephen G. Hill, president of music programming and specials at BET Networks, and not by BET’s lower-priority news division, headed by David Scott. Writing about the show in the New York Times on Oct. 19, Jon Caramanica called “Don’t Sleep!” “a mélange of information and straight talk, with only a few labored punch lines strewn about.  . . . The show’s tone varies widely, from pedantic, especially when dealing with statistics, to rollicking during the conversations.

“. . . it’s building a set of social and political norms that could apply not just to this show, but also to a channel that’s looking to speak with one voice.”