How BET Finally Got Some Overdue Emmy Recognition, Thanks to Its Big Programming Bets

We talk a lot about history-making Emmy nominations and wins, and it’s always fun to talk about “firsts” — such as “Squid Game” becoming the first non-English-language show to land a series nomination. But one breakthrough that struck me was BET’s significant showing via its streaming service, BET+.

That includes a nod in the directing for a comedy series category, for the freshman series “The Ms. Pat Show,” and choreography for scripted programming via the period drama “The Porter.” It’s the first time BET has received any major scripted series nominations; the company’s previous three nods were for music direction, actress in a short-form series and exceptional merit in nonfiction filmmaking. BET’s only Emmy to date came from the New York-based National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, which honored it for the public service campaign “Rap-It-Up.”

In other words, it’s about time. Even though BET has been around for more than four decades — having launched in 1980 — it has never been in serious Primetime Emmy contention until this year. It’s the latest feather in the cap of BET head Scott Mills, who was promoted to CEO in November.

For much of BET’s existence, it was known more for its music programming and videos than for original fare. When he took over as company president nearly five years ago, Mills sought to change the image of BET, signing Tyler Perry to an overall deal, launching BET+ and creating BET Studios.

“These two historic nominations really are first important milestones and an extraordinary affirmation of this transformation of BET that the whole team has been working on for the last four-plus years,” Mills tells me. “We realized that to realize our potential, that we would really have to elevate the quality of the content that we delivered to our audience, we would have to expand the breadth of the content we delivered to our audience, we’d have to expand the resonance and relevance and ultimately the volume because we were creating all these platforms. And so, to do that, we knew we had to work with top Black content creators and we had to really expand BET’s relationships.”

“The Ms. Pat Show” came to BET via Lee Daniels — and rather than tone down comedian Patricia “Ms. Pat” Williams’ routine, they put it on the streaming service. “It’s a very real comedy that allows us to stretch the way that we tell stories,” says BET+ general manager Devin Griffin. “It’s easy to focus on the blue notes of the show, the language and all of that, but we look at it as something that’s really honest.”

Griffin says he hopes the Emmy recognition for two very different shows in “Ms. Pat” and “The Porter” is a reminder that “we understand that Black stories are varied and the Black experience is not monolithic,” noting BET+ is “a platform for edgier stories, bolder ideas.”

Coming up on the docket are new shows including “Queenie,” starring Taraji P. Henson as the “godmother of the Harlem Renaissance,” as well as the thriller “Average Joe” (starring Deon Cole) and what’s coming up from Kenya Barris as he settles into his new BET Studios deal.

“When we created BET+, the positioning was always that it was the premium BET content plat- form,” Mills says. “And there’s no better way to underscore that than securing, a couple years into the launch of the service, our first two Emmy nominations.”