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 will welcome The Billion Dollar BET (Wiley; 24.95). Robert Johnson’s rise from humble beginnings in Hickory, Miss and Freeport, Ill to bone a fide American billionaire is packed with all the elements of great stories. In addition to a healthy dose of drive and determination, there is a large helping of alleged backstabbing, extramarital affairs, corporate meltdowns and showdowns.
Regardless of how some folks feel about BET, author Brett Pulley couches Johnson’s accomplishments in the historical context of both black American history and the cable industry. Like it or not, Johnson is a trailblazer. He is also proof positive of just how far hard work and tremendous opportunity can take you.
Most surprising to some maybe Johnson’s own grandiose ideas of what BET might have become. Like many of his critics, Johnson himself envisioned a channel with original and educational programming. Economic realities, however, led him to make music videos.
Yes, this type book is a far cry from the girlfriend fare that dominates black book shel ves, but, if given a chance, it can be just as titillating. --Ronda Racha Price (Upscale, April 2004)
The rags-to-riches rise of the nation's first black billionaire is a great story no matter how you tell it. And The Billion Dollar BET (John Wiley & Sons, $24.95), by Forbes senior editor Brett Pulley, is filled with enough sex, villains, and betrayal to make it a guilty pleasure.
At the center of the drama is Bob Johnson, who built a $15,000 bank loan into a media empire. Johnson refused to cooperate for the book, but Pulley had extensive access before deciding to write. Plenty of other key players (even Johnson's former wife of 32 years) were willing to dish on everything from 4 a.m. phone calls from the boss to his extramarital affairs.
What makes Johnson's life more than fodder for an E! True Hollywood Story, however, is the intersection of race and business. Johnson constantly reminds detractors that "the 'E' in BET does not stand for enlightenment or education but entertainment." Many hoped that Johnson, the first African American with such control over TV, would take a higher road. Pulley does address the issue, but one wishes he had spent even more time on the tensions black executives face balancing financial concerns and responsibility to the race. (Fortune, March 22, 2004)