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Opinion: BET’s decision exemplifies end of televised music era

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Bow Wow, Naturi Naughton, Keshia Chante, and Omari Hardwick attend 106 & Park at BET studio on June 2, 2014 in New York City.   Credit: Courtesy of BET

Bow Wow, Naturi Naughton, Keshia Chante, and Omari Hardwick attend 106 & Park at BET studio on June 2, 2014 in New York City.
Credit: Courtesy of BET

Black Entertainment Television announced Nov. 14 that “106 & Park,” its music video countdown show, will air its last on-air episode Dec. 19. The music video countdown program will become digital only.

Well, it finally happened. It’s the end of an era.

As a former viewer of the show, I do not find it surprising that cable television has lost yet another (and probably final) program dedicated to showcasing the hottest music videos of the week.

When I was younger, I used to watch MTV to find out what mainstream America was listening to, which artists were popular and which newcomers were catching buzz. “106 & Park,” which premiered in 2000, was BET’s flagship music variety show that highlighted black artists in the hip-hop and R&B scenes.

All of your favorite artists from these genres have probably performed on the “106 & Park” stage. 

Broadcasted Monday through Friday in its 14-year run, the program introduced me to some of my favorite artists, from Destiny’s Child to Ludacris. I remember watching the show when the original hosts, A.J. and Free, were joking around with all of their guests.

The great thing about “106 & Park” was that although music was the main focus, it wasn’t just about the music. I had the opportunity to see black actors, athletes, fashion moguls and leaders in the entertainment industry. 

I was allowed glimpses into the successes and struggles for black entertainers trying to find a break in Hollywood.

Despite all of the influential stars that passed through its doors, the show’s segments dedicated to nameless talents were what really had me tuning in every week.

Wild-Out Wednesday is a weekly segment where three artists or groups in a particular genre (hip-hop, R&B, step or dance) compete in front of a live audience. It provides aspiring artists a showcase and a chance to gain new fans and followers. Very few music programs gave the nameless the chance to make a name for themselves, and this is part of what consistently made “106 & Park” BET’s highest-rated show.

In another weekly segment called Freestyle Friday, two aspiring rappers compete in a freestyle battle.

What I truly appreciated about this competition was just how diverse the hip-hop community had become. One of the rappers in the Freestyle Friday Hall of Fame is a rapper known as MC Jin, a Chinese-American rapper who endured racist remarks and emerged the victor. Even though he did not find mainstream success, he recently returned last month with “XIV:LIX,” his second major album release in 10 years.

Even though the variety show did have a catered audience, it quickly diversified itself in terms of music and invited guests. From rapper Asher Roth to pop phenomenon Justin Timberlake, everybody who was anybody graced the stage in front of the “livest audience,” as well as for all of the viewers watching at home around the country.

In 14 years, the show went through various hosts and re-designs and was able to stay on air despite the onset of social media. Just as video killed the radio star, the Internet is overshadowing television. Just as MTV stopped its airing of music videos, so has BET (which also isn’t surprising seeing as they’re both owned by Viacom).

To be honest, I cannot say that I will miss “106 & Park.” The last time I can remember actively watching the show was when I was still living in Dallas and Terrence and Rocsi were the hosts. I do recognize that “106 & Park” introduced Twitter to me, and I used to participate in their hashtags. I owe a lot of my initial social media presence to the show.

However, I became extremely frustrated with the program because it began shortening the length of how much of each video would be shown, even on days when influential stars weren’t expected to make an appearance. “106 & Park” added so much to its programming that it forgot what it original purpose was: play music videos and introduce new music artists.

That frustration eventually led to me turning off the television and turning to YouTube, the global video sharing website that provides instant access to any and all videos one could wish for. I was not getting what I wanted from “106 & Park,” so I went looking for it myself. The independence that the Internet gave to so many people like me is one of the major factors that led MTV to stop playing music videos.

In fact, I can say that I am rather surprised that “106 & Park” lasted this long. All of those fresh faces that I was introduced to on Wild-Out Wednesday and Freestyle Friday now have YouTube accounts which I could subscribe to and watch all of their content. I could interact with them on Facebook and Twitter, and I don’t have to wait until a certain time of day in order to see what their current projects are.

The Internet does everything “106 & Park” does and more, and for these past few years, the show struggled from that. Even rapper Bow Wow as host could not save the show’s decline, and BET finally decided that the show had to move online, where its audience is most active.

“We thank all the people who have worked on the show over the years; the talented hosts, the hard-working staff, production crews and all the incredible guests we’ve had,” said Stephen Hill, BET’s president of music programming and specials, in a statement. “Most of all, we’d like to humbly thank the ‘livest audience,’ both in studio and at home, who fueled this landmark TV show from the very beginning.  Meet you in the digital domain.”

So long “106 & Park.” We’ll see you in cyberspace.

The final episode of “106 & Park” airs Dec. 19 on BET.

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