This week, BET is taking a gamble on an Atlanta-based former CNNer T.J. Holmes to host a late-night show that will be nothing like BET’s last late-night show hosted by comic Mo’Nique from 2009 to 2011.
Neither the network nor Mo’Nique ever explained why they cut her upbeat Atlanta-based program after just two seasons, despite solid ratings. (My guess it had to do something about money.)
So BET is going for a personality with only a fraction of the name recognition as Mo’Nique. Holmes is a newsman who spent five years at CNN, mostly as a weekend anchor who was sometimes mistaken for Don Lemon.
“I’m going to place the news through the T.J. Holmes filter,” he said in a phone interview. “I’ll look at the part of a story nobody else is talking about.”
He has plenty of late-night competition at the 11 p.m. half hour, including Chelsea Handler on E!, Conan O’Brien on TBS and Jon Stewart on Comedy Central. But he said the content will be geared to the black audience but won’t be anything like those there shows. At the same time, it’s not like “CNN on BET.”
“I now have a platform to talk to my community and highlight issues in that community,” Holmes said. “This is a natural extension of what I’ve been doing for my entire career.”
Holmes, 35, said executives at BET saw him emceeing a breakfast at a media conference more than three years ago. “I was more myself,” he said “not the guy on CNN, where I wasn’t allowed to show as much of my personality.”
He said BET approached him the middle of last year and they came to a deal a few months back. He is doing the show in New York before a live audience so he is currently commuting between Atlanta and New York. It will tape at 7:30 p.m. for airing 11 p.m. to be close to current with the news.
The show, which will run Monday through Thursday and debuted Oct. 1, includes some light humor, though Holmes is not a comedian. While noting a story about how blacks might stay away from the polls in November because Pres. Barack Obama supports gay marriage, he likened it to a relatively minor disagreement in a strong relationship. It won’t necessarily stop blacks from voting for him.
“If ‘Love & Hip Atlanta’s’ Mimi and Joseline can’t leave Stevie J,” he says, referencing the popular VH1 show, “do you really think black people are going to leave the first black president of the United States?”
There are commentators and panelists to talk about the news each day. On Tuesday, for instance, he had MSNBC talk show host and activist Al Sharpton, former RNC chairman Michael Steele and comedienne Loni Love.
They tackled voter ID laws and whether blacks vote for Obama because he’s black. Steele valiantly defended the Republicans in the face of a pro-Obama crowd.
He also offers up a “number” at the start of the show, then provides what it means at the end. That day, he had 59, which was the percentage in the black community that supports gay marriage in a recent poll.
Holmes, who is married to Atlanta attorney Marilee Fiebig, says if his show is a winner, he may have to move full time to New York. “I’ll miss the quiet pace of life,” he says. “I’m a Southern boy.” His favorite restaurants here: Veni Vidi Vici in Midtown, C&S Seafood & Oyster Bar in Vinings and Pasta Da Pulcinelli, also in Midtown.