Ed Gordon has come home again to Black Entertainment Television. The one-time BET anchor relaunched his career on the black-oriented cable network last Sunday with an incisive interview of comedian Steve Harvey. During the Conversations With Ed Gordon segment, one of two shows he is committed to doing on BET, Harvey proved to be vulnerable, even emotional, as he recounted his rise from living in his car to comedic stardom.
The interview evokes comparisons to the time that Gordon, now 50, famously asked O.J. Simpson in 1996 after his acquittal on murder charges: "Did you commit those murders?" Gordon says he is excited about his second return to BET after stints at NBC and CBS.
The Root: Your interview with Steve Harvey was very emotionally open. What do you do to get interview subjects so comfortable that they will share so much?
Ed Gordon: Steve is one of those guys — people either love him or they don't. I've been blessed [that way] historically with these interviews, especially with this series, Conversations. I hope a part of it is the trust factor. I don't think anybody assumes there are any questions I won't ask. But they believe the portrayal will be fair.
TR: You've been known for your "gets," high-profile interviews from O.J. to Nelson Mandela to Bill Clinton. Who is No. 1 on your list right now?
EG: I, like everybody else in the country, am going after Eddie Long [pastor of the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, whom several young men have accused of sexual improprieties]. We've received calls from some big names. What we're trying to do is [get] people big in the headlines or in the news like Long.
TR: You have worked in black and white media. What are the differences in terms of addressing your audience?
EG: There's nothing different in my approach; there are differences in who you go after. We've known Tyler Perry for a long time. White America in the last two years or so has been hearing about Perry. When Lionel Richie had his crossover hit with "Dancing on the Ceiling," black America already knew about him. When I was with majority media, I tried to bring people to their attention who were not on their radar screen but who were on the brink of a breakthrough.
TR: BET has long been criticized for paying too much attention to booty and not enough to substance. Are you the antidote?
EG: Here's what I told people before I left [in 2004]. BET's problem years ago was they were the only [black network]. The second issue that BET has admitted is that they probably went too far [toward] sheer entertainment. We've seen, in the last couple of years, [an] attempt to pull back and bring more variety to the programming.
What I always tried to do is bring the best programming that I can produce; anything I have my name on is going to have integrity. While there will be some continued cries about certain programs on BET, those who want to see better programs will be satisfied with what is on BET.
Many of those same programs we cry about have a certain number of people watching. We have to be honest about what our people are watching. We're trying to get an interview with President Obama, and then I'll go do an interview with Mary J. Blige. I'm sure the rating for Mary J. will be a lot higher.
TR: What do you think of President Obama's treatment in the news media? Many African Americans feel he's been unfairly beleaguered.
EG: I think the president has been treated across the board like presidents are treated. The media co-opted by the right has been relentless. I don't think this administration and the Democratic Party have done as well in counterbalancing the story by the right and [the] media that is right-leaning. I think this administration needs to do a bit more by dealing particularly with African-American media.
TR: What is the value of this show?
EG: We couldn't out-CNN CNN. It's costly, eventually, because you have to have so many people, so much hardware deployed. We saw it during the Shirley Sherrod issue. During the presidential election, you saw black pundits invited in disproportionate numbers. I think the perspective of black America gets lost and is not there. Sherrod is a great example of how mainstream media didn't get the story immediately. To a certain extent, this show will bring perspective for African Americans to share their thoughts, to share in the intellectual property. It's a great opportunity to get a different perspective from the general [one].
One of the things we were acutely aware of [is that] when you try to do a political show or hard-news show, [you] are taking a look at whatever is in the headlines, from the sublime to the ridiculous. When we get to the round table, we will talk about everything; the conversation will be smart. When we turn off on Sunday, the conversation can continue in your living rooms and kitchens.
Joel Dreyfuss is The Root's managing editor. Follow him on Twitter.