Back to IndieWire

Might BET Have its First Primetime Emmy Award Contenders in ‘Being Mary Jane’ & ‘Book of Negroes’?

Might BET Have its First Primetime Emmy Award Contenders in 'Being Mary Jane' & 'Book of Negroes'?

Based on my research, the BET cable TV network has never won a Primetime Emmy award; the obvious reason being that it simply just hasn’t had the caliber of original scripted drama and comedy series that are usually competing for Emmy Awards – the highest honor in television land.

Of course, I’m assuming that BET brass is indeed desirous of that kind of industry recognition. But I assume that they are, if only based on the network’s recent commitment to original scripted programming, that might suggest a change in general principle, which will, in essence, present a fresh face, and thus a new critical appreciation for the network and what it offers, that simply was not there prior.

And while I can’t say with any certainty that “Being Mary Jane” could be an Emmy Awards contender, I can definitely say that it’s certainly a welcomed change to what was once a network that many just didn’t take very seriously. It’s also a very adult drama series, which is contrary to the kind of programming the network became famous for yesteryear. And I think that’s a very good thing!

And, quite frankly, having watched the entire series, through the current season, not to pit the 3 series against each other, but if broadcast network drama series like “Scandal” and “How to get Away with Murder” can be in TV awards season  contention (Emmys, Golden Globes and SAG notably), even if only for the performances by the actresses in them, I really don’t see why “Being Mary Jane” can’t join that party, because, in my not-so humble opinion, I actually think “Jane” is a better series than the other two, and has more potential. Blasphemy to some of you, I’m sure; but, it’s one man’s opinion. I just like what I see, and appreciate what the Akils seem to be going for with it, and are trying to accomplish – at least, from the outside looking in.

I like that it’s an adult drama series that’s grounded in a messy reality (but a reality nonetheless), and takes its time unraveling. It’s perfectly cast, and the writing and the performances feel more natural to me. 

All that said, BET still likely has a little bit to go before it’s recognized as a contending network by the Emmys, if only because of its history. That they are seen as a “black TV network” in an industry that doesn’t quite, shall we say, respect black content and black content creators, will be a hurdle. As the saying goes, black folks need to work twice as hard to enjoy the same rewards that their white contemporaries do. But as long as the network continues on the path that it’s currently on, I think they’re on their way. It all just starts with the content – which is king!

And with “The Book of Negroes” miniseries adaptation coming later this month, I’m really looking forward to what the reactions to that miniseries will be. If not “Being Mary Jane,” that could be a contender in the Outstanding Miniseries category at this year’s Primetime Emmy Awards celebration. It’s an adaptation of a critically-acclaimed novel by a celebrated author, directed by an award-winning director, with a cast of some of the most respected black actors working today. On paper, it’s already a win. Of course, the execution will tell the rest of the story, which will unfold on our TV screens later this month.

Announced today, BET has renewed “Being Mary Jane” for a third season, which really shouldn’t be a surprise. The season two premiere, earlier this week, was Tuesday’s top cable program, with a 1.2 adults 18-49 rating.

Starring Gabrielle Union, the new season will feature twelve (12) one-hour episodes that will air consecutively every Tuesday night at 10 p.m. ET/PT, with its season finale airing on Tuesday, April 21.

The second season of “Being Mary Jane” finds Mary Jane (Union) once again juggling more than she can handle. On the home front, while both of her brothers seem to be getting their lives on the right track, her mother and niece are at war, causing everyone in the family to choose sides. Mary Jane’s career at her cable network takes an interesting turn, when she decides to feature more and more stories about the “Black experience.”  All the while, she makes a brave decision to try every way possible to conceive a child, just as she is opening her heart to a new man.

“Being Mary Jane” is created and executive produced by Mara Brock Akil, and executive produced and directed by Salim Akil. 

Union is joined in front of the camera by Richard Roundtree, Margaret Avery, Lisa Vidal, Richard Brooks, Raven Goodwin, B.J. Britt, Aaron D. Spears, Latarsha Rose and Stephen Bishop. 

Season 2 guest stars will include Gary Dourdan, Chris Spencer, Salli Richardson-Whitfield, Christina Vidal, Kyle Massey, Thomas Q. Jones and S. Epatha Merkerson.

Meanwhile, BET launches its first-ever event miniseries “The Book of Negroes,” a six-part historical drama in the tradition of “Roots,” based on Lawrence Hill’s award-winning, Oprah Winfrey-listed novel (known in the United States as “Someone Knows My Name”). The highly anticipated television event will run over the course of three consecutive nights in two-hour installments, starting Monday, February 16, 2015 at 8 PM ET/PT.

Director Clement Virgo’s adaptation stars Aunjanue Ellis as Aminata Diallo, abducted as an 11-year-old child from her village in Sierra Leone (West Africa), is sent to live as a slave in South Carolina, and years later, forges her way to freedom, serving the British in the Revolutionary War and registering her name in the historic “Book of Negroes” – an actual document that provides a short but immensely revealing record of freed Loyalist slaves who requested permission to leave the US for resettlement in Nova Scotia, only to find that the haven they sought was steeped in an oppression all of its own. 

Cuba Gooding Jr., Lou Gossett Jr., Allan Hawco, Ben Chaplin and Jane Alexander round out the starring cast.

This Article is related to: Features and tagged ,