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


Praise for The Billion Dollar BET

"In a gripping narrative that is both inspirational and cautionary, Brett Pulley tells us how Robert Johnson built Black Entertainment Television into a billion-dollar media empire. In a remarkable feat of reporting, without Johnson's cooperation, Pulley shows what it really takes to get ahead in America today, and in doing so provides as valuable a cultural as business history."
—James B. Stewart Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and ...

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Praise for The Billion Dollar BET

"In a gripping narrative that is both inspirational and cautionary, Brett Pulley tells us how Robert Johnson built Black Entertainment Television into a billion-dollar media empire. In a remarkable feat of reporting, without Johnson's cooperation, Pulley shows what it really takes to get ahead in America today, and in doing so provides as valuable a cultural as business history."
—James B. Stewart Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and bestselling author of DisneyWar, Den of Thieves, and Heart of a Soldier

"Like or dislike? Agree or disagree? Bob Johnson's richly varied and fascinating life presses you against the window that Brett Pulley opens widely."
—Bernard Shaw retired CNN anchor

"Through his BET network, Bob Johnson reached the pinnacle of capitalism, the billionaire boys club, in the spirit of legions of driven, American moguls . . . Veteran business journalist Brett Pulley peels back the layers of this fascinating and complex entrepreneur."
—Teri Agins Senior Special Writer, the Wall Street Journal, and author of The End of Fashion: How Marketing Changed the Clothing Business Forever

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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)

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780471423638
  • Publisher: Wiley
  • Publication date: 4/1/2004
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 395,392
  • 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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Table of Contents

Prologue: "Bootylicious".

1. The Other Side of the Tracks.

2. Access to Power.

3. "White Man, Can You Spare half a Million?

4. Reverend Eldorado.

5. Country Boy Charm. Predator's Heart.

6. The Family.

7. "BET In The House".

8. Shakin' It...Smackin' It.

9. "Tired Ol' Reruns".

10. Wealth and Power.

11. The Black Disney.

12. Costly Affairs.

13. "SELLOUT!"

14. He Got Game.

Epilogue: One Nation Under a Groove.





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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 22, 2006

    Even-Handed Saga about America's Leading Black Entrepreneur

    The fascinating rags-to-riches story of Robert L. Johnson, the U.S.¿s first black billionaire, has all the makings of a great novel: personality, determination, opportunity, scandal, backstabbing and tremendous success. Against all odds, this child of a poor, black rural family became a media pioneer and a very wealthy man. A visionary, he started Black Entertainment Television (BET) with $15,000, four employees, and incredible energy and ambition. Judging by the amount of money he made, his success is clear, although biographer Brett Pulley says his track record in social responsibility is muddier. We recommend Pulley¿s remarkably even-handed, in-depth portrayal of this enigmatic, controversial, often hard-hearted mogul.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 26, 2004

    Finally, The Veil Is Parted

    At last we find out what makes billionaire enigma Bob Johnson tick! (Basically the same thing that motivates most other business heavyweights. Mad Bling!) Mr. Pulley's book finally reveals how Mr. Johnson copes with the cacophony of disapproving black sentiment that seems to have swirled around BET since it burst onto the scene. He simply checks his bank account! Billion Dollar BET is a fast-paced, didactic read, digressing only to the degree necessary in order to embellish key players or pivotal situations in the Johnson saga. Mr. Pulley--through Bob Johnson's daring progression from dirt dauber to NBA owner--gives us an education in high-stakes business and negotiations. He even makes mega-million dollar stock wrangling and financial jargon understandable to the lay reader. The best parts of the read, of course, are the juicy personal dramas--infidelity, jealousy, betrayal, law suits, the works--that unfold off the set and within the Johnson family clan. This book crosses so many lines and will appeal to disciples of many different literature genres.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 1, 2004

    New kind of business man

    Robert Johnson had the chance to do something great with BET.....After reading his book I understand his thinking, like a businessman making tough business decisions. He's a new kind of business leader.I wish things would have been different, but he could be a model for anyone looking for a example on finding a niche and filling the demand.I admire Robert Johnson greatly!

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