BET series slate stays close to script

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BET is set to launch its first original scripted series, a comedy from "The Bernie Mac Show" executive producers Pete Aronson and Warren Hutcherson that is based on writer-director Hadjii's indie film "Somebodies."

The network also has greenlighted an animated sketch comedy series titled "Bufu" from Orlando Jones ("MadTV") and Ali LeRoi ("Everybody Hates Chris") and another animated series from Will Smith and James Lassiter's Overbrook Entertainment. All three shows are part of a slate of primetime originals announced Wednesday by BET chairman and CEO Debra Lee and president of entertainment Reginald Hudlin at the network's upfront presentation to advertisers at New York's Manhattan Center Studios.

Lee noted that BET is making its "biggest investment ever in original programming and digital entertainment," while Hudlin pointed to the diversity of the slate, which also includes reality and biography, sports and inspirational-themed series.

"We've never had as diverse an array of original programming all dedicated to black culture," he said in an interview. "Almost every category of television show is represented on our slate this year."

"Somebodies," which is premiering in the fall, is set in Athens, Ga., and focuses on a group of black slackers as they transition from college to career. The film it is based on screened in competition at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival. Aronson, Hutcherson and Hadjii are the executive producers of the TV series.

"I'm very proud to be launching our first scripted series," Hudlin said. "It's a single-camera series with a fresh, fun voice."

Meanwhile, "Bufu" is said to be in the tradition of "Saturday Night Live" and "SCTV." It's set to premiere in the fall.

"It picks up where Dave Chappelle left off," Hudlin said.

Overbrook's "Cipha" is a sci-fi series set in a future world where hip-hop is outlawed. It premieres next year. The two animated series join the previously announced "Hannibal," from Vin Diesel and his One Race production partner Samantha Vincent, which debuts next year.

Also on the slate are the unscripted series "S.O.B.," a hidden-camera show that explores stereotypes, racism, politics and other issues (premiering in July); "Baldwin Hills," a docudrama that focuses on the lives of 11 upper-middle-class black teens growing up in an upscale Los Angeles neighborhood (July); and "College Hill Interns" (fall), a spinoff of "College Hill," which on Tuesday night garnered its highest rating ever with a 1.7.

In the sports arena, "Iron Ring," featuring celebrities managing teams of mixed martial arts fighters, debuts in July. Another sports-minded show, the talker "Ballers," debuts at 10 p.m. Friday.

The gospel singing competition "Sunday Best" will debut in the fall, with such singers as Patti LaBelle, Kirk Franklin and Shirley Caesar working with the contestants. Also falling into the "inspirational" category are biography series "Exalted!" which spotlights inspirational leaders and debuts in the fall, and the return of "Celebration of Gospel" in January.

Other upcoming premieres include "The 5ive" in May, the dating show "Hell Date" in July and the court show "Judge Mooney," featuring comedian Paul Mooney, in the fall. All three will be stripped.

Specials include "Hip-Hop Awards" (October), the holiday concert "Christmas Wish" (December), the Icon Awards (February), the music-centric "Spring Bling" (April) and BET Awards '08 (June 2008).
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