BET entertainment chief sorts out 'Mess'

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"Hot Ghetto Mess," a BET series that has provoked criticism and sent advertisers fleeing before it has even aired, will prove detractors wrong, BET entertainment head Reginald Hudlin said.

"It's unfortunate that people are making an erroneous presumption based on absolutely zero information," Hudlin told a meeting Sunday of the Television Critics Assn.

"Mess," making its debut July 25, combines viewer-submitted home videos and BET-produced man-on-the-street interviews that the channel said are intended to challenge and inspire "viewers to improve themselves and their communities."

The six-episode series is hosted by comedian Charlie Murphy ("Chappelle's Show"). It is based on a Web site that features photos of men and women, mostly black, with extreme hairstyles and clothing typically linked to hip-hop fashion.

At least two companies, State Farm Insurance Cos. and Home Depot, asked BET to drop their ads from the series' debut. Sponsors had yet to see the show, Hudlin said Sunday.

Observers including What About Our Daughters, a blog and audio podcast that focuses on how black women are depicted in popular culture, have accused the site and the show of demeaning blacks.

Hotghettomess.com was created by Jam Donaldson, a black lawyer from Washington who is an executive producer on the BET program. On her site, Donaldson calls for a "new era of self-examination."

The show builds on the Web site's effort to take "a hard look at some dysfunctional elements of our community," Hudlin said.

"The intent of the show is no different than what Bill Cosby is doing as he's going across the country and lecturing as he talks about the problems of the (black) community that we need to address," he said.

The show approaches its goal in a lively way that will engage BET's young audience, Hudlin said.

Donaldson told reporters that the series has "exceeded my expectations."

"Everyone that sees the show will be pleasantly surprised. ... I think they will learn something. There's black history. We go to the community and ask what their opinion of some of these images are," she said.

"The show is so much more than the name," Donaldson said. She started the site because of "images of black dysfunction" that were being distributed on the Internet without discussion of the need for change.

With shows such as "Mess" and "Hip-Hop vs. America," Hudlin said, BET is trying to be part of the solution.

"At the end of the day, the most responsible thing we can do is create a dialogue about those things," he said.
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