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Magic Johnson, GMC launch new Atlanta-based cable network Aspire June 27

Magic Johnson is investing major bucks into his new cable network Aspire. CREDIT: AP

Magic Johnson is investing major bucks into his new cable network Aspire. CREDIT: AP

Earvin “Magic” Johnson has spent a lot of time on TV over the years, as a Hall of Fame point guard for the Los Angeles Lakers, an NBA analyst and for a brief moment in time, a TV talk show host.

Now he is now working behind the scenes, launching his own Atlanta-based cable network called Aspire that will focus on family-friendly programming.  It debuts Wednesday, June 28, at 8 p.m. Johnson is a majority owner but is in partnership with Atlanta-based GMC, which carries its own brand of uplifting shows.

“I’m a great believer in partnerships,” Johnson said in a phone interview Monday. “If I didn’t partner with GMC, I wouldn’t be in the business. We needed someone with some expertise. I thought it was a natural fit.” The name of the network, he added, is meant to reflect the positivity he hopes will come out of the programming.

Aspire was created as part of an agreement with the Federal Communications Commission when Comcast purchased NBC Universal. Comcast, the nation’s largest cable operator with about 23 million subscribers, was required to start four minority-oriented networks.

I haven’t gotten much in the way of details when it comes to programming. It’s about 27 hours from launch, and my Comcast DVR schedule does not have Aspire up yet as an option.

UPDATE 6/28 3:08 p.m.: I am now looking at my Comcast DVR. Aspire’s first couple of days mines the late 1960s and early 1970s. The 1972 film “Sounder” is on now starring Cicely Tyson and Paul Whitfield. Later today, Aspire will air “Julia,” the first sitcom starring a black woman in a non-stereotypical role; “The Flip Wilson Show,’ the first successful variety show led by a black performer; and “The Bill Cosby Show” that aired from 1969 to 1971 and was the first comedy starring a solo black actor.

On Monday, they sent out their first press release about programming: an original two-hour block of independent black features hosted by actor Omari Hardwick. In general, there will be a mix of films, documentaries, music and comedy.

Charles Humbard, president and CEO of GMC, said “Soul Train” repeats will be on the slate, partly because GMC is majority-owned by InterMedia Partners, which also has the rights to the classic music show. (Johnson has worked with InterMedia in the past.) Humbard also namedropped “I Spy,” the 1960s drama starring Bill Cosby. Otherwise, I do not know what’s on the schedule but will update this as I get more details.

Aspire will now enter an increasingly crowded sphere that already has BET, Centric, TV One and Atlanta-based Bounce, which launched just nine months ago. Humbard said the network will have access to about 7 to 10 million households out of the gate. (Locally, you’ll be able to find it on Comcast Channel 188.)

“They’re banking on Magic’s name and personality,” said Brad Adgate, head of research at Horizon Media. “Time will tell. It depends how good the programming is. There are a lot of choices out there.”

On the sales side, Magic was able to get category-exclusive deals with several advertisers, including Atlanta’s own Coca Cola, L’Oreal, Chrysler, Wal-Mart and Nationwide Insurance.

Johnson said the network did focus groups and found a hole in the market for family-friendly African-American programming. “Nobody is going to mess with BET. They’re doing a great job. We understand the other guys. But we feel good about where we are. Based on the research and homework, we have a great opportunity. If everyone was satisfied already, I wouldn’t be launching Aspire.”

Aspire, which is moving to offices in College Park next month, has hired 15 employees with a few more on the way. GMC’s former counsel Paul Butler was picked last month to be general manager of Aspire. Given the network’s limited marketing budget, it hopes to generate buzz not only through Johnson but through social media. It has hired two employees to work Twitter/Facebook magic.

Join my Facebook fan page and Twitter.

By Rodney Ho, Radio & TV Talk

41 comments Add your comment

Rick James

June 26th, 2012
5:40 pm

Thrashers Fan!

June 26th, 2012
5:54 pm

Creating a channel for one specific minority group is so dumb.

When will people understand that in order to end racism we need to start treating all people as humans with different attributes rather than different racial groups? Why can’t we view people with different skin tones like we view people with different color hair?

What does it teach our children when they grow up seeing that there are different channels for different races? Why can’t we race our children in a world where everyone is treated equally?

Charles Douglas Edwards

June 26th, 2012
6:12 pm

We would like to wish Earvin “Magic” Johnson and the cable network Aspire the best of luck and success.

There is a need for positive family-friendly African-American programming in our communities.

THANKS for putting this network in Atlanta.

BlondAlto

June 26th, 2012
6:29 pm

I just want to say Merci Beaucoup to Rodney Ho for all the local radio news etc. What would we do with out him? Before he joined the AJC, what DID we do without him? We in Atlanta are lucky to have him!!!

Thrashers Fan!

June 26th, 2012
6:37 pm

I meant to put “Why can’t we raise our children…” not “race our children.”

lol

nisha

June 26th, 2012
6:53 pm

Thrashers Fan!

Why can’t other networks put more black people on TV?

Jaye

June 26th, 2012
7:03 pm

Thrashers Fan that would be great if the majority channels would devote equal time to minority programming as they do majority programming to keep it fair and balanced. How many shows featuring a minority cast on the majority channels are on TV now? How many majority family themed shows have a cast that also features a minority family, not a family that includes a biracial couple like Parenthood or Modern Family? How many reality dating shows have had a minority as the person whose affections are up for grabs? Think about the answers to these questions and you’ll see why there is still a need for programming for minority audiences because we are sorely represented by the majority networks.

Ed

June 26th, 2012
7:24 pm

Let’s make sure we know exactly what is going on here. In order for the NBC/Comcast merger to happen, Bobby Rush (D-Chicago) who is on the Congressional Committee kinda convinced NBC to have more diversity in programming. This is how the Comcast channels for African-Americans came about.

However, that isn’t the important part – what is important to know is who the channels went to. They did not go to aspiring media entrepreneurs. Instead it went to the bougie elite Blacks that included Magic “Earvin” Johnson who had their hand in the pot. So the next time someone tries to congrads Magic Johnson, I hope they realize the backstory…

Rodney Ho

June 26th, 2012
7:29 pm

@BlondAlto. Thanks mom! :)

J

June 26th, 2012
7:50 pm

Agreed Thrashers Fan, how many more crappy ethnic networks do we need? These minority networks are a dime a dozen and go under all the time because they don’t have any advertisers or decent programming…Black Family Channel/MBC for one. Minorities ARE on major networks, like Tyler Perry’s gazillion shows on TBS. How many shows does that guy have anyway? What about MTV and VH1? Lots of minority programming/music videos which is such a great influence on our society. Someone needs to make a network for intelligent people, because that is the real minority.

Justine

June 26th, 2012
7:51 pm

why is it when Blacks attempt to do something positive there is all this talk about us separating from “others”. To set the record straight Black Entertainment Television (BET) is not owned by Blacks. TVOne has become a joke showing only reruns of sterotypical programs from decades ago. Centric is trying and Bounce is great. No one talks about the fact there are at least 4 hispanic stations and a whole series of cable programs and channels and packages for hispanics. Gays have LOGO and even though they dominate the medica, Jews have a Jewish channel on cable.

I am sick and tired of the only face of Blacks being minstral show comedies much of which is produced and controlled by non-Blacks.. No one is showing Franks Place, Eastside Westside or other great Black programs. We do not see Black dramas, especially those from the 1920-1960s. And yes there were a lot of them. In fact when we had to sit in the balcony we instead chose to go to the Black movies at the Black movie theater.

So Magic if you do what you say you are going to do God Bless You.

Jed BI Clampett

June 26th, 2012
8:14 pm

As long as the Real Housewives of ATL are not in the programming, it may work however they will have to diversify to stay profitable since there are other networks like TVOne, BET, Bounce, Centric, and others the play the same material.

DontSayItoldyaSo

June 26th, 2012
8:31 pm

@Justine

SAY IT… again….and again…and again!

Sally

June 26th, 2012
8:55 pm

Well gosh, why can’t the major networks put equal number of dark haired women as they do blonde haired women. And, why can’t they put equal numbers of bald men as they do men with hair. The list goes on……

KenFromCalifornia

June 26th, 2012
8:56 pm

good to hear! competition is always good, especially with the sometimes dismal offerings of the other black-targeted networks being a frustrating alternative.

Reign

June 26th, 2012
9:30 pm

Awesome! sounds like a great plan. Hopefully, This will help balance some of the derogatory African American programs that’s out there right now. Not sure if I want to see “I Spy” though. I really thought this new network would be more 21st century by providing programming that showcased new talent (producers, directors, designers, comedians, chefs, etc.). Tired of seeing the same old shows, same old actors, and so on, but I’ll give it a try. Best of luck Magic!

Splavistic

June 26th, 2012
10:00 pm

Thrashers Fan! If GMC wasn’t just white-centric, maybe your ideal would ring sort of maybe true. Re-runs of Walton’s does not a race-blind country make.

cj leno

June 26th, 2012
10:27 pm

I enjoy bounce. Bet is degrading. We do not have minorities on major networks. I miss the days of martin, fresh prince, cosby show, ect. I am tired of the same actors/actresses getting recycled on tired re-runs or low budget stereotypical movies/shows. Spike lee please come back! John Singleton. Give these new blacks a chance! Tyler your shows are horrid. You recycle the same talent its not right when you have the platform to break in new talent. Can we get some funny or dramatic black shows please with new talent?

cj leno

June 26th, 2012
10:29 pm

For the atlanta actors. Get an agent from la b/c they skip right over us and cast atl roles out of la and ny like were nothing. Then there are the same actors who are buddies with the casting directors who book every single atl show there is!

Truth-O-Meter

June 26th, 2012
10:40 pm

Thrashers Fan! Tomorrow morning you should get a pad and pencil and watch Good Morning America, The Today Show, or CBS Morning News. Make a tally mark each time a person of color is the subject of a news story. Do that for the first 30 minutes of the show. Record your data collection for the next two days. If the story is positive, put a plus sign next to the entry. If it’s negative, place a minus sign next to the entry.
Oh, I forgot to say do the same thing each time you see a Caucasian as the subject. Feel free to share the results with us all after you do your homework. I would submit that one reason we have so much racial friction is because what the majority race knows about other groups is based sometimes almost entirely on stereotypes. I used to get angry with Caucasians and blame them until I realized that they only know what they see. If they see negative images reinforced day in and day out, that becomes the reality of what they believe about other groups.
I don’t know what kind of programing to expect from Aspire, but your railing about racial tension being caused by this venture is purely off base.

justrovering

June 26th, 2012
11:00 pm

We need a Native American channel when can we have one, we now have 4 or 5 African American channels 4 Hispanic channels a number of Japanese Channels, Female, Jewish Channels, Christian, German and more. Not one Native American channel why?

justrovering

June 26th, 2012
11:08 pm

I am one of the ones tired of seeing you your face crying and screaming for racial equality, when there really never is any true racial equality sought, because most everyone who is getting the most attention is looking to achieve being treated different or looked at differently by stating repeatedly they are different which undermines true meaning of equality.

dee

June 26th, 2012
11:16 pm

this is a good look, god bless those they have their own.

dee

June 26th, 2012
11:21 pm

this is great, instead of complaining about high unemployment in our community, we are creating jobs and opportunities. so for all the people that say we are looking for government hand outs we are making moves and putting jobs in our neighborhoods College Park, Ga.

Truth-O-Meter

June 27th, 2012
1:26 am

Final thought: If you know anything about Magic Johnson you know he is a business man. Anyone has a problem with a businessman seeing a need, finding a way to capitalize on it for profit? That’s what Mitt and Herman Cain say Blacks ought to do. And before you say he is doing it with OPM, that again is what Mitt did. The difference is I don’t think Magic is putting anyone out of work to make his business work.

Get over it!

Dr. Craig Spinks/ Georgians for Educational Excellence

June 27th, 2012
5:46 am

KUDOS to Earvin Johnson!

Let’s hope that he can bring to family-friendly programming the same “Magic” that he brought to MSU basketball and to the LAL.

knowledge

June 27th, 2012
8:46 am

Thrashers Fan
That is a great question to ask but the answer lies in the history of these United States.

barelai

June 27th, 2012
8:51 am

Enter your comments here
Thanks Justine…well said!
To other commenters: Even if you have not been a victim of racial injustice you can develop a sensitivity to those who have and who NOW HAVE THE FREEDOM TO EXPRESS ONESELF WITHOUT HAVING TO BE PHYSICALLY WHIPPED, BEATEN OR LYNCHED! Verbal abuse continues though…

Thanks Rodney for caring and continuing to give equal share to all the races! You are doing what we need without any explanation…I feel your humanity.

John

June 27th, 2012
8:58 am

To the Thrashers Fan comment…

Channels like the one that is being created is only needed because the current networks/channels fail to offer diverse programming for the diverse population that exists. It is not a one size fits all solution. Unfortunately, this is a ratings/money game,

indy

June 27th, 2012
9:27 am

Aspire… a good start but we’ve seen enough of the recycled stuff.

Will like to see the folks who have “aspired” to a better place in society and how they got there.

It doesn’t have to be anything too lofty, just folks who are currently making a difference in the community.

A segment dedicated to JOBS. Companies that are are hiring and the resources to get the skills required to fill some of the positions. As well as business ventures for young entrepreneurs.

Lola

June 27th, 2012
10:10 am

Aspire! Congratulations to the best player to ever lace’em up! A great businessman and its an honor that it will be based in Atlanta!

Fred ™

June 27th, 2012
10:43 am

nisha

June 26th, 2012
6:53 pm

Thrashers Fan!

Why can’t other networks put more black people on TV?
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Please name me a show on any major network that doesn’t have Black characters. I’ll wait.

[...] FULL ARTICLE [...]

Glenda

June 27th, 2012
2:54 pm

Kudos to Magic Johnson & ASPIRE! I watched this morning’s interview on Morning Joe- impeccable interview. Not sure this network will be aired in my area, however I remain hopeful. Thanks Magic, more positive family-oriented shows are so needed, especially for our children. Mr. Johnson I must add, I am very proud of your image as a businessman, commentator,and spokeman. May God bless you and your family, and I encourage your continued success. Please keep doing what you’re doing- inspiring others and giving aspirations for upcoming entrepreneurs. Asprise- dream the dream, make it happen!

Erma Jean

June 27th, 2012
2:57 pm

Much of the black trash programming is shown because there is such a demand for it from the young black youth. Bet has better programming of late. But I stopped watching BET for the most part years ago because they showed nothing but trashy raunchy black people. To be honest, I would love to see some programming that deals with black history that is positive as well as things that happened in the 60’s when we were marching for voting rights.

james e haney jr

June 27th, 2012
6:34 pm

Say there Majic it is good to see a black man of my generation doing a inspiring thing like this. my brother and I also is in that frame of mind in thinking….back when Sindey Portier.. and Billy Cosby was acting together…People like Steve McQueen….Barbara striessand.. believe in their work…The name is The film kings.com……also check us out on vimeo.com Type in TKQ in the upper bpx…and then go to The uncles the jimmy gregg story…..{ we trying to bring filmmaking back to it’s simple form….entertaining for less money}

young rie

June 27th, 2012
7:36 pm

This what’s up, but hopefully the programming be 100 percent from a black perspective we don’t need other people talking for us

A person SMART enough to know......

June 28th, 2012
1:43 am

Great More BLACK TV. Just what the Ghetto Queens need to keep their butts on the sofa.

Know the Facts...Justine

June 29th, 2012
12:31 am

TV one has the highly respected and well produced UNSUNG series, as well as Soul Food, Lincoln Heights, My Momma Throws Down, and just added Hawthorne. A Different World, Half and Half, and Living Single are NOT sterotypical shows. Do your homework before you give uniformed opinions.

Yes It's Me!

June 29th, 2012
2:00 pm

Im glad that Comcast and Majic Johnson are Bringing New Jobs out here! I think that’ the important thing, they’ve created an environment of employment. Thanks so much and I hope this Venture grows to create even more Jobs, not only here, but to other areas too. Thanks Comcast and Majic Johnson!!!

Romburg

June 30th, 2012
4:19 am

@ Thrashers Fan! Shutup!! I hate it when people of no-color have the answer to race relations. Where their expertice comes from, I don’t know. However…I do love to hear them pontificate. But here is one way that I suggest. Stop telling the historically opressed, to let it go…opressor!!