TCA 2012: T.J. Holmes on Appealing to Black Viewers, Courting Obama and Late-Night Competition

TJ Holmes - P 2012
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TJ Holmes - P 2012

When T.J. Holmes joins the late-night fray in October, he will do so for an African-American audience he believes is underserved.

“It morphed into a responsibility,” Holmes says of launching Don't Sleep!, an 11 p.m. nightly show that will address topics he claims are not being discussed as frequently as they deserve to be. Among them: the growing financial inequality gap in the U.S. and the dismal high school graduation rate among African-American males. "It’s literally a crisis, and we’re not treating it like a crisis," the former CNN anchor says of the latter, one of many issues he plans to tackle on a nightly basis on his BET show. 

Although there will be entertainment and humor infused, Holmes' upcoming show will be more news-oriented in format, with a news segment, panel of regular guests and a nightly sit-down interview. While the late-night effort, which is being billed as a “political comedy,” sounds much like that of The Daily Show With Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report, Holmes insists he’s not trying to take on those shows or their hosts, who he calls “studs.” 

Stephen Hill, BET Networks' president of music programming and specials, echoes Holmes’ sentiment, noting that Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart were “comedians first who backed into news,” whereas Holmes got his start as a journalist (first at NBC locally and then at CNN). “I wouldn’t put a lot of weight on the comedy part,” he adds, noting that BET is trying to establish a new paradigm Don't Sleep! As for the series' title, Hill suggests it is shorthand for "Don't sleep on what's happening in the world around you." He adds, "Don't be ignorant."

While Holmes stops short of ticking off the many names on his ideal guest list, he does allow that he'd like to have both President Obama and Mitt Romney on the show. More broadly, he plans to book musicians, athletes, actors, reality stars and politicians who are of interest to black culture. "The people you don’t see enough of on other networks," he says, adding "a black dentist from Atlanta" or "a black surgeon from Los Angeles" to the wish list.

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