BET-Bashing Pair of ‘Boondocks’ Banned

Feb 3, 2008  •  Post A Comment

Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim has tossed away two brand-new episodes of Aaron McGruder’s animated series “The Boondocks.” The show (and comic strip of the same name) has always delved fearlessly into black culture and politics as seen through the eyes of two young black brothers from inner-city Chicago who’ve moved to the suburbs with their grandfather.
On a more conservative network, the jet streams of comedic gore and liberal use of the N-word would be enough to nix an episode. But those elements have been staples of “The Boondocks” since it began airing—and Adult Swim’s other fare isn’t exactly known for its prim reputation.
So maybe it was the over-the-top mocking of BET executives. One of the scotched “Boondocks” vignettes has the young protagonist Huey (named after radical Huey P. Newton) telling CNN of his plans to go on a hunger strike until “all top BET executives commit Japanese ritual suicide.”
Mr. McGruder goes on to depict BET CEO Debra Lee (a Dr. Evil-inspired “Debra Lee-vil”) screaming that “the destruction of black people is not happening fast enough!”
In the same episode, Lee-vil’s animated lieutenant (meant to depict BET Entertainment president and, awkwardly, “Boondocks” exec producer Reggie Hudlin) gleefully announces his development plans: “My Harvard education tells me that our goal should be to take all the shitty reality TV shows MTV did five years ago and make them black. Anyone who wants to see a shitty black version of an MTV reality show, well, they’ll have to come to us!”
Whether the decision to yank the episodes came at the urging of BET, “Boondocks” producer Sony Television or Cartoon Network is unclear. Mr. McGruder, BET execs Mr. Hudlin and Ms. Lee and Cartoon Network Chief Content Officer Bob Sorcher did not respond to requests for comment.
Via e-mail, Cartoon Net representative James Anderson said: “The two episodes … are not scheduled to air on Adult Swim. … [N]either Turner nor Adult Swim were contacted by BET, Ms. Lee or Mr. Hudlin.”
Of course, nothing can ever truly be banned in the age of YouTube. The episodes were posted there and then quickly taken down—but not before they spread virally.
For a show whose second season is about to be released on DVD, it could be a clever, “We’re being censored!” PR stunt. Then again, the last time Cartoon attempted a viral marketing campaign, the result was multiple bomb scares around Boston that prompted bridge and road closures.
Leaving aside Mr. McGruder’s cultural ax-grinding, his beef with BET and its leaders does raise timely questions about the network’s programming strategy.
In June 2005, BET founder Bob Johnson stepped down and transferred power to Ms. Lee. A month later, she hired Mr. Hudlin.
Many saw his hire as a long-awaited move by the network into original programming.
The programming changes he instituted—reality fare such as “Hell Date” and “American Gangster”—seem to have yielded only slight improvement in overall ratings. But Brad Adgate, senior VP of research at Horizon Media, the country’s largest independent media buyer, said it might not be all Mr. Hudlin’s fault.
Mr. Adgate noted BET’s total viewers were “essentially flat,” from 2006 to 2007, in part because of the loosening of BET’s grip on what constitutes “black” entertainment.
A Jan. 29 study by Nielsen Monitor Plus on black media habits found that besides traditional purveyors of “black” entertainment such as BET and TV One, “Some 61 programs across 16 additional [cable] networks achieved an African American audience of 50% or greater.”
Mr. Adgate added, “VH1 is up nearly 50% in total viewers over last year. And some of its biggest shows are ‘Flavor of Love’ and ‘I Love New York.’ I think you can make some connection there [about the effect on BET].”

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