NEW YORK - Newsman Ed Gordon has returned to BET for a weekly public affairs program partly because the network has changed and mainstream Sunday punditry hasn’t.
He’s hosting “Weekly With Ed Gordon,” a Sunday interview and discussion program that resembles the “Meet the Press” format on broadcast networks, yet with stories and guests of particular interest to the black community. Gordon will also do a more in-depth interview program four times a year.
Gordon hasn’t worked for BET since 2002, when the network canceled his “BET Tonight” interview show and other news programming because of money losses and a declining interest to the youthful audience it was targeting.
“It’s one of those places that fits like an old shoe,” said Gordon, who worked at NBC News, CBS News and National Public Radio while away from BET. “It’s comfortable.”
He said he didn’t harbor bitterness from his exit eight years ago, although he stretched out his return negotiations to make sure BET was truly committed to news when he was first contacted about a return more than a year ago.
“If you’re going to be in this business, to hang on to bitterness when people cancel your show would be wrong,” he said. “I remember years ago seeing an interview with Regis Philbin and he said, ‘If you’re in this business, you’ve got to be ready to be fired.’”
While he was away, BET’s attempt in 2008 to establish a youth-appeal news program, “The Truth With Jeff Johnson,” failed. BET’s audience is aging, particularly on Sundays when “Weekly” airs, and management is no longer consumed with reaching people under age 35 to the exclusion of others, said Debra Lee, the company’s chairman and CEO.
The reversal doesn’t necessarily mean BET is admitting a mistake was made in 2002, said Lee, who was a top company executive then.
“I don't think it was a wrong decision at that time,” she said. “It was just the right decision at this time.”
The first episode this past Sunday opened quickly with Gordon interviewing New York Rep. Charles Rangel, who is accused of financial wrongdoing. Rangel just won a competitive primary election and is virtually guaranteed a return to Congress.
Along with the interview, Gordon led a panel discussion with CNN’s Fredricka Whitfield, former talk show host Montel Williams and the Rev. Calvin Butts. They discussed Bishop Eddie Long, the Georgia pastor accused of luring young men into sex; the Rangel investigation; and the resurgence of quarterback Michael Vick after his jailing on animal abuse charges. In coming weeks, Gordon promised visits from Anita Hill and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Both Gordon and Lee said mainstream television networks made a strong effort to diversify their bookings on political shows when Barack Obama was running for president in 2008. With some exceptions - Gordon pointed to the strong work of CNN’s Roland Martin - after Obama was elected, the networks have largely reverted to past form and been stingy in inviting black guests, they said.
“The mainstream media, to some degree, calls on black voices when they think there is a black issue or black perspective, versus just asking an African American economist just to talk about the economy, not the black economy,” Gordon said.
Gordon’s weekly show airs at noon on Sundays.
Gordon’s quarterly show, “Conversations With Ed Gordon,” debuted Sept. 26 with a Steve Harvey interview. He’s keeping the shows less frequent to ensure meaningful guests, he said.
“You don't want to get the fourth or fifth interview with somebody who does ‘Dancing With the Stars,’” he said.