Other Free Encyclopedias » Online Encyclopedia » Encyclopedia - Featured Articles » Contributed Topics from P-T » Smiley, Tavis(1964–) - Journalist, broadcaster, writer, entrepreneur, philanthropist, Begins Media Career, Chronology

Loses One Platform and Gains Others

smiley bet program time

On March 21, 2001 Smiley was informed by his agent that his contract with BET would not be renewed when the agreement ended on September 6 of the same year. He had just arrived in Warren, Ohio for the beginning of his foundation’s Youth 2 Leaders nine-city tour and had already scheduled a trip the next day to Midway, Georgia for the funeral of his grandmother, Adel Smiley.

Smiley addressed his situation during his TJMS commentary on March 22, also expressing concern for the future of the program at BET, the viewing audience, his production staff, and others, as close to 50 BET employees were also laid off around the same time. The program had retained its popularity and high ratings, with Smiley receiving several honors and recognitions, including the NAACP Image Award for three consecutive years. He also expressed dismay that he was given no detailed explanation by BET, only a fax message that he referred to as “five years, four sentences.” In support, Joyner asked his radio audience to boycott BET, and to call, write, fax, and e-mail Mel Karmazin, Viacom’s chief executive officer, to express their displeasure at the network’s treatment of Smiley.

BET responded by firing Smiley immediately, instead of at the end of his contract. Johnson indicated in his press release that “recent actions by Mr. Smiley left us little recourse but to make this move,” and also made a rare on-air appearance on March 26 during the regular time slot of the former Smiley program to explain his position to the viewing audience. Johnson indicated that the decision “was his, and his alone” to fire Smiley.

Smiley had produced and conducted an exclusive interview with Sara Jane Olson, a radical fugitive and former member of the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA), which gained notoriety with the group’s kidnapping of heiress Patricia (Patty) Hearst in the 1970s. He opted not to air the interview on BET (which he had the right to do under the terms of his contract) and sold the broadcast rights to ABC News after CBS (also owned by Viacom) showed no interest in the production. Smiley’s interview aired on ABC’s Prime Time Live program and received higher ratings than the CBS program scheduled at the same time. Johnson indicated that Smiley’s actions demonstrated “a lack of mutual business respect” which led to the termination of his BET contract.

Smiley made a final statement regarding his situation on the March 27 broadcast of TJMS in an effort to set the record straight. He said it was time for all the persons involved to move on with their lives and work. Joyner agreed and asked listeners who had been honoring the boycott of BET to end the protest.

By the end of 2001 Smiley had received an unprecedented multimedia deal, in which he would work as a broadcaster for ABC News, ABC Radio Network, Cable News Network (CNN), and National Public Radio (NPR). He became the first African American ever to host a broadcast on NPR. Smiley had already become a contributing editor to USA Weekend Magazine , was contracted to write books for Doubleday and for his own imprint, Smiley Books, and he continued his other activities.

Smiley made additional history in 2004 when he became host of Tavis Smiley , his talk show on the Public Broadcasting System (PBS). When he chose to base the program in Los Angeles, it became the first national PBS program to originate from the West Coast. Smiley was also invited back to his hometown to receive an honorary doctorate from Indiana University-Kokomo.

In September 2004 Smiley celebrated his fortieth birthday and was honored by Texas Southern University in Houston, Texas, when it established the Tavis Smiley School of Communications and the Tavis Smiley Center for Professional Media Studies. This made him the youngest African American ever to have a professional school and center named for him on a college or university campus. Smiley expressed his appreciation by presenting a $1 million gift to the center.

Smiley resigned from the NPR position in December 2004, stating his view that the public radio network was not fully committed to diversity and multiple viewpoints in its programming. He continued his other obligations, with the assistance of The Smiley Group, his organization of associates based in Los Angeles.

Tavis Smiley has accepted challenges, overcome setbacks and obstacles, and created numerous opportunities to, in his words, “encourage, empower, and enlighten” others through his gifts as a communicator. He is considered one of the important political voices of his generation, a person who maintains faith and hope regarding the possibilities for positive change in the African American community, in the United States, and in the world.

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