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Baltimore's James Blue helps BET get more socially relevant

Former 'Nightline' producer debuts his first documentary for BET, about Michelle Obama's trip to Africa, Sunday night

August 26, 2011|By David Zurawik, The Baltimore Sun

She talks in the film, for example, about her middle-class childhood in Chicago and recounts how she could never have imagined getting on a plane and going off to a place like South Africa — that was just something too far outside her realm of experience to even imagine. She says she hopes documentaries like the one about her trip will help young people understand it is possible for them.

"We hear her in a different way, talking directly to BET viewers," Scott says. "She's talking about who she wants her daughters to be as black women, talking about what it was like growing up in a middle-class black family when international travel was not as possible for her generation. … Our viewers will hear her in this piece speaking directly to them in a way that we think resonates with their lives. … We may not have the kind of full-fledged, sophisticated news-gathering infrastructure of a major news organization, but we're especially well-positioned to produce quality journalism on the issues that matter most to our audience."

Blue, a Bolton Hill resident and father of two, looks as if he could play a key role in that future. He was scheduled to produce a live program Sunday for BET from the dedication ceremony of the Martin Luther King monument — before the weather caused the cancellation of the event. He will be the man in charge of BET's live coverage when the rescheduled dedication takes place.

"What is nice is that BET is creating the possibility for this kind of programming," Blue says. "And it comes from the top. … There is a sense that this public affairs-documentary genre has a real potential and has a place within what BET is trying to do now. But let's also be clear, because this is a business. BET is a successful cable network. And unlike some of the news divisions where I used to work, there is an opportunity within that success. You know, I'm surprised as anyone that I'm doing stuff for BET. But I'm loving it — and I'm having fun. And I'm learning all sorts of things."

david.zurawik@baltsun.com

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