In Depth

Women in Television: Debra Lee

Who: Debra Lee, chairman and CEO, BET

Women in TV

Why: Debra Lee can add planning BET’s first inaugural gala for the nation’s first African American president to her busy agenda. She joined BET in 1986 as a VP and corporate counsel, and in successive executive positions helped grow the network’s reach and revenue before landing the CEO spot in 2005. This year the network has gone places it has never been before—covering the presidential campaign with a newfound emphasis on news geared for its audience, augmented by sharing resources with corporate cousins CBS, Nickelodeon and MTV. “This campaign has really elevated our profile, our news coverage and the specials we do,” Ms. Lee said. The network also instituted its first “BET Honors” telecast last year.

“I’m proud of our original programming strategy, including the first scripted shows we’ve done,” said Ms. Lee. “I want to do a lot more.” Upcoming programs on her watch include “Black Panther,” a new animated series slated for the third quarter of 2009, and “Unreported,” a look at unsolved murders.

What: Ms. Lee is involved with Girls Inc. and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, both organizations with deep ties to the black community. “In my first election, I voted for Shirley Chisholm [for president], knowing she didn’t have a chance, but it was monumental for me. With Barack Obama, it’s come full circle,” she said.