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The Billion Dollar BET: Robert Johnson and the Inside Story of Black Entertainment Television
     

The Billion Dollar BET: Robert Johnson and the Inside Story of Black Entertainment Television

by Brett Pulley
 

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The American dream is still alive, and if you don't believe it just take a close look at Robert L. Johnson, the founder of Black Entertainment Television (BET) and a man who has traveled the classic American journey from humble origins to unimaginable wealth. Born to a poor family in Mississippi, Johnson, the son of factory workers and the only one among his ten

Overview

The American dream is still alive, and if you don't believe it just take a close look at Robert L. Johnson, the founder of Black Entertainment Television (BET) and a man who has traveled the classic American journey from humble origins to unimaginable wealth. Born to a poor family in Mississippi, Johnson, the son of factory workers and the only one among his ten siblings to attend college, parlayed a $15,000 loan in 1979 into Black Entertainment Television, one of the cable industry's richest franchises.

Written by award-winning journalist Brett Pulley, The Billion Dollar BET is the first-ever in-depth look at one of the most enigmatic and important entrepreneurs of our time. This revealing book offers a colorful portrait of a brilliant and relentlessly focused businessman, whose life is a window into race, culture, and capitalism. From Johnson's rural Mississippi roots and early years in blue-collar Illinois, to his graduate life at Princeton University and career as a cable industry lobbyist on Capitol Hill, The Billion Dollar BET traces his inspired climb to the top and his often controversial tenure at the helm of one of the most influential media outlets in the country. You'll discover how Johnson won the support of media titans John Malone and Sumner Redstone, and watch as BET begins to take on far greater social significance than even Johnson could ever have imagined. You'll also learn how Johnson handled pivotal events in the company's history, such as the public attacks on BET's program content and the decision to sell the firm to media giant Viacom.

Much more than a corporate analysis of profits and losses, The Billion Dollar BET is a story about savvy, vision, timing, determination, failure, scandal, love, and sex–all the things that occur behind the scenes as a company and its leader grow up. It reveals an ambition and fiery determination that burned so hot that friendships were shattered, family relationships destroyed, and hearts broken.

Filled with revealing anecdotes and never-reported details of Johnson's life and business acumen, The Billion Dollar BET is a classic American business tale. This is the story of the greatest $15,000 bet ever made. It is the story of Robert Louis Johnson and the billion-dollar empire that he built.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Still at BET Helm, Johnson Turns to Sports and Hotels" (Washington Post, May 17, 2004)

Those interested in business are not the only ones who will welcome The Billion Dollar BET (Wiley; 24.95). Robert Johnson’s rise from humble beginnings in Hickory, Miss and Freeport, Ill to bone a fide American billionaire is packed with all the elements of great stories. In addition to a healthy dose of drive and determination, there is a large helping of alleged backstabbing, extramarital affairs, corporate meltdowns and showdowns.
Regardless of how some folks feel about BET, author Brett Pulley couches Johnson’s accomplishments in the historical context of both black American history and the cable industry. Like it or not, Johnson is a trailblazer. He is also proof positive of just how far hard work and tremendous opportunity can take you.
Most surprising to some maybe Johnson’s own grandiose ideas of what BET might have become. Like many of his critics, Johnson himself envisioned a channel with original and educational programming. Economic realities, however, led him to make music videos.
Yes, this type book is a far cry from the girlfriend fare that dominates black book shel ves, but, if given a chance, it can be just as titillating. —Ronda Racha Price (Upscale, April 2004)

The rags-to-riches rise of the nation's first black billionaire is a great story no matter how you tell it. And The Billion Dollar BET (John Wiley & Sons, $24.95), by Forbes senior editor Brett Pulley, is filled with enough sex, villains, and betrayal to make it a guilty pleasure.
At the center of the drama is Bob Johnson, who built a $15,000 bank loan into a media empire. Johnson refused to cooperate for the book, but Pulley had extensive access before deciding to write. Plenty of other key players (even Johnson's former wife of 32 years) were willing to dish on everything from 4 a.m. phone calls from the boss to his extramarital affairs.
What makes Johnson's life more than fodder for an E! True Hollywood Story, however, is the intersection of race and business. Johnson constantly reminds detractors that "the 'E' in BET does not stand for enlightenment or education but entertainment." Many hoped that Johnson, the first African American with such control over TV, would take a higher road. Pulley does address the issue, but one wishes he had spent even more time on the tensions black executives face balancing financial concerns and responsibility to the race. (Fortune, March 22, 2004)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780471423638
Publisher:
Wiley
Publication date:
04/01/2004
Pages:
256
Product dimensions:
0.63(w) x 6.14(h) x 9.21(d)

Meet the Author

Brett Pulley is a Senior Editor at Forbes magazine, where he writes primarily about the media and entertainment industries. He has authored several cover stories including the 2001 Forbes 400 on Robert Johnson. Prior to joining Forbes in September 1999, he spent five years at the New York Times, where he covered economic development, politics, and was a national correspondent. He also spent several years as a correspondent at the Wall Street Journal, writing extensively on business and race. His front-page feature for the Wall Street Journal on the black-owned company, Johnson Products, won a first-place award from the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ). He received a second NABJ award for a feature written for Savoy magazine, where he served as a contributor. He has also written for several other publications, including USA Today and Emerge magazine. He is a frequent guest on many television programs, providing commentary and insight on media and entertainment news and issues. Pulley currently lives in New Jersey with his wife and two young daughters.

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