Stephen Hill Exits As Head Of Programming At BET

After 18 years with BET as the president of programming for the network, Stephen Hill has resigned from the company Wednesday (March 29). It comes as quite a surprise – not only because of the length of his time with BET, but also because the impact of a lot of his creative decisions for the network’s programming over the years.

Those creative decisions birthed major wins for the Viacom-owned network, like the conception of 106 & Park, The Hip Hop Awards, The BET Awards, and more recently, the widely successful six-hour The New Edition Story biopic that aired in January.

Hill first joined Viacom in 1995 where he worked as a programming exec for four years as a programming exec. From there, he migrated to BET in 1999 and quickly made a name for himself behind the scenes in much of the network’s programming. His drive and his determination was undeniable. And after spearheading the bulk of BET’s music-related programming endeavors, and doing so to great success and acclaim, Hill took over all of BET’s programming.

The network’s chairman/CEO Debra Lee delivered the surprising news through an internal staff memo acquired by Billboard. In her glowing memo, Lee cites her admiration for the former programming exec and how his contributions to BET are very apparent. “Stephen has earned a reputation as one of the leading creative minds in television and music. His contributions to the team have been invaluable as we worked together to successfully reinvigorate our brand.” She also noted talked about moments from past award shows that he was creatively the driving force behind, adding, “Who could ever forget THE Prince Tribute, James Brown and Michael Jackson, Beyoncé & Kendrick Lamar? This list can go on and on. The incredible ‘awww yeahhh’ moments Stephen has created during his 18 years literally are too many to mention.”

BET is not the only network seeing executive shakeups underneath the parent company Viacom. In fact, MTV, Comedy Central, and VH1 have all experienced executive restructuring after Viacom’s CEO Bob Bakish announced in December that the company would be implementing a new regime. A refocus on Viacom’s six core brands (BET, MTV, Comedy Central, Paramount, Nickelodeon, and Nick Jr.) to revitalize and combat ratings challenges in this new digital age has fully commenced. Many believe that Stephen Hill is another unfortunate casualty of the organization’s restructuring plan.

Hill followed Lee’s exit memo to staffers with a personal memo of his own. Read Hill’s memo via Billboard below:

My first morning at BET was the day after Roger Troutman died. WKYS, WPGC and WHUR were all full with the music of Zapp and as I drove the car (that I still own) down New York Avenue in DC towards the BET Complex, I thought to myself “we’ll need to get the details and some footage quickly so that we can get something on the air today about Roger.” Immediately after orientation, I began searching out the people that could make it possible. But it turns out it was not possible. Due to the shoot schedule for the video shows, the edit time, and the way that Master Control was set up, the quickest anything could be turned around was one week. It was unimaginable to folks there then that BET could react to anything in real time. Crestfallen, I slumped in my way-too-big chair and gazed out at the McDonald’s across the street from my NetOps office; determined that the paradigm shift.

18 months later, we were live daily on BET and would stay that way for the next 14 years. What was previously unimaginable had been made real.

This Friday, 6,549 days after I took my first step through the doors of BET, I will walk my last one out. It has been my honor to serve this brand in that span and I am thrilled to have been able to be a member of the teams that ideated and created so many spectacles, moments, memories and miracles. It’s been fulfilling to be part of huge changes that literally shifted culture.

As we go forward, I’m excited by all of our immediate and long term upcoming trajectories.

For you and BET, it’s the opportunities you will mine through your new designation: VIACOM made a wise choice making BET a “Flagship” brand. It’s been proven over and over again that viewers want BET to win and that they believe highly in your ability to do so. We saw that recently with the culture shifting New Edition Story when, with one series, pundits and social media were ablaze proclaiming BET as the best TV producers of biopics. Full Stop. Huh? “Best” after one attempt? Yes. That’s the feeling. That’s the energy of an audience rooting for you. That’s a populace hot for you. Your audience knows that other channels have to study the culture, but BET is the culture…and they respect the difference. I truly wish you the fuel of innovation, execution and support to feed those fire-flames. There is an abundance of talent at BET Networks; each person a spark that can start the blaze of the next success; to again take what is currently unimaginable and set on a path to make it real. It has been my immeasurable joy to work alongside you.

As for me, since I was 16, I haven’t had many workdays of not getting up, getting into it and getting involved. ‘Tis a truly foreign concept. I talk about “time”…well, all of the time ( at least twice a year on email); about its value and to consider how you use time…as a friend or a foe. Right now, I’m choosing friend. I’ma throw my arms around it like I would a long lost buddy and enjoy a bit of what it might offer. I am truly looking forward to some time to just be. There’s much in this world I haven’t experienced that I soon will.

And then, I’ll re-approach the side of the action, sway to and fro while catching the rhythm and jump back into the fast-paced double-dutch of life. However, these same feet that will one day return to churning in time with the ropes will now, for a few moments, have their individual digits sifting sand…not unlike another former President. Check the IG in a little while. Previously unimaginable. About to be wonderfully real.

Thank you Debra Lee for pretty much everything since the day you saw me in the red pants. Your leadership, tenacity, dedication…and style…are appreciated. Your investment in me and support of me from the very beginning has been strong and constant. I treasure it and will pay it forward.

I will miss you all. I will miss this. I will miss us. But I am so excited to see where you next take this powerful, agile, thrusting spacecraft of a brand.

Imagine it and drive well.

sgh

Zola Mashariki, EVP and head of original programming, will also receive the ax from Viacom.

In Hill’s place, senior VP for specials, music programming and news Connie Orlando will act as interim head of programming until a suitable replacement for Hill is found. Hill’s last day is Friday (March 31).

Photo Credit: PR Photos

Sheriden Chanel is a twenty-something writer, Beyoncé enthusiast, and lover of all things visual art. Keep up with her and her musings on social via @indiebyline.