From Publishers Weekly
Against overwhelming odds, BET founder Robert Johnson blasted through social and economic barriers using his intelligence and charm, first establishing himself in the realm of Washington politics and later in the media business. One might think his rags-to-riches story would be incredibly uplifting. But in this unauthorized biography, Pulley (a senior editor at Forbes and well-known expert on the business of entertainment) reports that Johnsons methods were anything but noble. Though he created the first black-owned and -operated cable company, Pulley says, Johnson had little interest in raising the quality of the programming that BET offered to the black community, despite that communitys loyalty to his channel. (In Canada, blacks even lobbied to have BET carried on their cable systems.) From the very start, Pulley argues, Johnsons goal was to become a billionaire, period. And he realized his dream when he sold his company to Viacom in 1999. Along the way he shed friends, associates and even family members who ceased to be useful in carrying out his business plans, Pulley says, and he also refused to compensate (or even to thank) many of those who helped him in moving forward, including the man who gave him the business plan that he used to find his original investors. Pulleys research in this volume is quite impressive; he interviewed all of Johnsons most important BET colleagues. And though his prose occasionally leans towards the purple, overall the book is written in a clean, easy-to-follow style. His eye-opening biography will make many readers view Johnson in a new way, and may leave some hoping that there is another side to this cynical story.
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"Still at BET Helm, Johnson Turns to Sports and Hotels"(Washington Post
, May 17, 2004)
Those interested in business are not the only ones who willwelcome The Billion Dollar BET (Wiley; 24.95). RobertJohnson’s rise from humble beginnings in Hickory, Miss andFreeport, Ill to bone a fide American billionaire is packed withall the elements of great stories. In addition to a healthy dose ofdrive and determination, there is a large helping of allegedbackstabbing, extramarital affairs, corporate meltdowns andshowdowns.
Regardless of how some folks feel about BET, author Brett Pulleycouches Johnson’s accomplishments in the historical contextof both black American history and the cable industry. Like it ornot, Johnson is a trailblazer. He is also proof positive of justhow far hard work and tremendous opportunity can take you.
Most surprising to some maybe Johnson’s own grandiose ideasof what BET might have become. Like many of his critics, Johnsonhimself envisioned a channel with original and educationalprogramming. Economic realities, however, led him to make musicvideos.
Yes, this type book is a far cry from the girlfriend fare thatdominates black book shel ves, but, if given a chance, it can bejust as titillating. --Ronda Racha Price (Upscale, April2004)
The rags-to-riches rise of the nation's first black billionaireis a great story no matter how you tell it. And The BillionDollar BET (John Wiley & Sons, $24.95), by Forbes senioreditor Brett Pulley, is filled with enough sex, villains, andbetrayal to make it a guilty pleasure.
At the center of the drama is Bob Johnson, who built a $15,000 bankloan into a media empire. Johnson refused to cooperate for thebook, but Pulley had extensive access before deciding to write.Plenty of other key players (even Johnson's former wife of 32years) were willing to dish on everything from 4 a.m. phone callsfrom the boss to his extramarital affairs.
What makes Johnson's life more than fodder for an E! TrueHollywood Story, however, is the intersection of race andbusiness. Johnson constantly reminds detractors that "the 'E' inBET does not stand for enlightenment or education butentertainment." Many hoped that Johnson, the first African Americanwith such control over TV, would take a higher road. Pulley doesaddress the issue, but one wishes he had spent even more time onthe tensions black executives face balancing financial concerns andresponsibility to the race. (Fortune, March 22, 2004)