In a recent post for The Root I write about how VH1 has managed to get away with the kind of mess people would have blown up BET for. Is it a good thing? Is it a bad thing? I don’t know. But it sure is an ironic thing.
VH1, now known more for Love & Hip Hop: Atlanta than its beginnings as a sort of MTV for old people, was initially an unexpected rival. VH1 has gone through a few incarnations, while BET has always been BET: Black Entertainment Television. Yet it’s VH1 that is home to one of the highest-rated reality shows on cable, the aforementioned Love & Hip Hop: Atlanta, and is now the No. 1 network in African-American households, followed by BET and OWN.
VH1—which, like BET, is owned by Viacom—started producing more and more African-American reality shows and original programming in the mid-2000s, beginning with the offensive and outrageous car wreck Flavor of Love in 2006. Since then VH1 has been home to several African-American-led reality shows, including Basketball Wives, T.I. and Tiny: The Family Hustle, LaLa’s Full Court Life, Marrying the Game, Love & Hip Hop: Hollywood and Atlanta Exes. The network also started producing dramas with African-American stars, starting with the Queen Latifah-produced Single Ladies and continuing with last summer’s cheerleader drama Hit the Floor.
Although BET has produced reality shows, none has ever caught fire like the over-the-top antics of a Mona Scott-Young production or a table-hopping Basketball Wives fight. I wonder, is there a reason for that, and does it have to do with what black audiences expect of BET versus what they will accept from VH1?