To call T.J. Holmes the "new" Ed Gordon of BET would be misleading since the "old" Ed Gordon is still around -- although the veteran anchor is now mostly confined to convention news coverage for the network. Nevertheless, Holmes, 35, host of late-night talk show "Don't Sleep!," which bowed last night, is certainly here to mute some of the criticism of BET over the years -- too much froth, no substance.
I recently spoke with the Arkansas native, who joined from CNN, where he was an anchor and correspondent. His new show (11 p.m.) is taped daily in New York, and yes, Holmes says he has standing invitations to both presidential candidates to appear.
Prelaunch, I thought this would be a comedy program, but it's not at all, is it?
People are confused about that; they hear it's anchored by this news guy but that it's late night and that throws them off. . . . We understand that at 11, we have an audience that wants to be engaged, so we have to engage and entertain them.
How will you do that?
We're not doing a 'Daily Show' or 'Colbert Report' but a unique hybrid of all those. The highlight of it will be a debate panel with people from various backgrounds where you might have a member of Congress sitting next to an actor sitting next to a community activist.
Will the show primarily focus on issues in the African-American community or have a wider angle?
Absolutely, [but] you can also watch and get a better handle on what's important to the African-American community. is part of the complaint I hear all the time -- that what you see on TV isn't representative of the black community, like reality shows that show women in a constant negative light. We don't have anything to balance that out.
You've heard the rap on BET -- that its programs are exploitative. How are you here to change that?
Folks at BET have been hearing that for quite some time, [and] I'll defer to them on the answer. But it is starting to look different from the BET of old. My goal in coming here wasn't to change the image of the network -- my goal was to take advantage of the reach that it has to make an impact on the community, and I'm grateful they're willing to do a show like this.