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THR's Women in Entertainment 2012: Power 100

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    24. Debra Lee
    23
    Debra Lee
    Chairman and CEO, BET Networks

    Lee's nearly 30-year tenure has seen BET transition from a repository for oft-criticized music videos to original scripted series and movies, public affairs programming, late-night talk, documentaries and awards shows. The South Carolina native, 57, also has invested in digital (the BET Awards generated 10 million unique tweets, up 683 percent year-over-year), marketing and program development. Down 13 percent for the third quarter, BET Networks hasn't been immune to the ratings slide in the Viacom portfolio. But it is also coming off of a record ratings year in 2011: The return of The Game in January 2011 topped 7.7 million viewers, making it the most-watched sitcom telecast in ad-supported cable history. This year, BET signed The Game duo Salim and Mara Akil to an overall development deal; their first BET drama series, Being Mary Jane, starring Gabrielle Union, will bow as a telefilm in early 2013.

    Moment I knew I wanted to work in the business: Seeing The Cosby Show cemented my love for television and the power of the media. It showed you could really change society with a show.

    Who gave me my first big break: [BET founder] Bob Johnson hired me 27 years ago as the first general counsel for the company and allowed me to do business things in addition to the legal, and that's how I was able to become COO and eventually CEO.

    When I leave work each day, I can't wait to: Get into something more comfortable. I have a whole wardrobe of lounge outfits. I'm addicted to the kind of clothing they sell at spas.

    Favorite way to unwind on the weekend: Exercising. I couldn't have said that three months ago. But now I am developing -- I wouldn't say a love for -- but a habit of working out.

    My indulgence: Shopping, especially when I'm in a bad mood.

    Proudest moment this year: Election Night. I'm very proud of our recent election coverage and the part we played in helping to re-elect the president.

    Totally starstruck around: Michelle Obama. I had lunch with her a couple of years ago. I was amazed at how nervous I was.

    Embarrassed to admit I watch: Dancing With the Stars. It's also the show I want to go on!

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