NAACP seeks to improve image with revamped awards show Program will air on Fox

organization could net $250,000 to $500,000

February 17, 1996|By James Bock | James Bock,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK -- The NAACP Image Awards, the glitzy Hollywood television production that lost $1.4 million and went off the air, is back in business and expected to make money.

Run by the NAACP board since 1991, the Image Awards became symbolic of financial mismanagement within the civil rights group. The program's losses were the single largest contributor to the NAACP's $3.2 million debt.

Board members rented stretch limousines and stayed in lavish Beverly Hills hotel suites as losses mounted. More than a dozen Image Awards winners never even received their trophies.

Now a revamped production is scheduled to be taped April 6 in Pasadena, Calif., for prime-time airing that month on Fox. The show may be among the first major indications that the nation's largest civil rights group is coming back to life under Rep. Kweisi Mfume, its incoming president and chief executive officer.

"It hasn't worked the way it should, and I'm committed to not making the same mistakes twice," Mr. Mfume said yesterday. "This will be an Image Awards program that provides a positive cash flow to the organization. Never again will we go into debt putting on this program."

Mr. Mfume is scheduled to be in California on Wednesday to announce the nominees for the 1996 Image Awards. The show was created in 1967 by the group's Beverly Hills-Hollywood branch to showcase positive images of blacks in American entertainment.

The incoming president sat in on part of an Image Awards Committee meeting here yesterday. The committee will report to the full board today after Mr. Mfume's address to the organization's annual meeting.

Joseph E. Madison, Image Awards Committee chairman, said the event was expected to net the NAACP at least $250,000 from a licensing agreement with Fox. He said TV ratings bonuses and event ticket sales could increase the take to $500,000 or more.

Mr. Mfume has "made it clear that this is probably the most important event we will do," Mr. Madison said. "It is the first national event after his coming on board, the first national event of the new NAACP. He wants this Image Awards to be most successful."

Mr. Madison said the Image Awards committee has trimmed expenses by substituting telephone conference calls for trips to the West Coast. "I've made one trip to Los Angeles last June 17, and I have not been in L.A. since. Out there, I travel at my own expense and pay for my own accommodations," he said.

Hamilton Cloud, who produced the last eight Image Awards shows for NBC, will take charge of the production for Fox. The show's hosts have not been announced, but Mr. Madison said the NAACP is seeking stars of the caliber of Denzel Washington and Whitney Houston.

The Image Awards last aired in January 1994. Later that year, the board, under former Chairman William F. Gibson, reached a tentative agreement with producer Don Cornelius to take over the show's production. But after Chairman Myrlie Evers-Williams defeated Dr. Gibson in February 1995, the NAACP walked away from the deal.

T. H. Poole Sr., who headed the Image Awards Committee under Dr. Gibson, said the deal with Mr. Cornelius would have made the NAACP at least $500,000.

"All that went down the drain," he said. "I didn't see how we could turn down half a million dollars, but they did in the spirit of transition."

Mr. Poole acknowledged that during his tenure, the show posted big losses, which he blamed on the NAACP's contract with NBC. But he noted that the board reappointed him three times.

He has defended his and Dr. Gibson's limousine rentals and luxury suites as "standard" for Hollywood.

But Mr. Madison said the 1996 Image Awards will represent a "180-degree change" in the way the program is run -- and in the NAACP's own image.

"The chairman of the Image Awards will not have bodyguards, will not stay in an expensive suite and will not have a limo -- unless someone donates one," he said.

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