Was Debra Lee Wrong For Refusing To Mentor Diddy When He Started Revolt?

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Debra Lee has been in the game for a minute now. And she’s earned the respect of the industry. During a recent conversation at the Paley Media Center with producer Will Packer, the two talked business, the network and how the programming on BET has become so successful.

The two also shared their thoughts on climbing in the industry and the notion of mentors, competition and idols. While Will Packer spoke with disappointment about how people stopped returning his calls once he started climbing the ladder and became competition, Debra Lee seemed to offer an explanation as to why that might be the case.
She shared a story of Diddy approaching her after he learned that he had Comcast had partnered with him to create Revolt.

“We were the only Black network for a very long time and that was kind of fun. Now I have lots of competitors. And this is a very competitive business. And what I’ve said to one of two of my competitors is ‘good luck’ I wish you well but I’m not going to hand over my audience to you on a silver platter.

We’re all in this together. I want everybody to do well but if you’re not in it to compete, you’re not in it to win.
Puffy came up to me at a party and said, ‘Oh I just won the license–Comcast is going to help me start a Black network.’ And I was like ‘Oh that’s great, good luck.’ And he said, ‘But I want you to be my mentor.’ And I said, ‘Puffy…’ And he said to me, ‘You don’t look happy.’ And I said, ‘You’re just telling me you’re starting a network to compete with me.’ You know, ‘I wish you luck but I’m not going to hug you and give you my secrets.’ And ‘If I do help you too much I’ma lose my job.’ “

Will Packer did agree with Lee though. Packer said that he was speaking as himself as an individual but with Lee, it’s business. She has people, shareholders, investors, advertisers and employees depending on her to fight and advocate for BET and BET alone. He argued that it would be irresponsible for her to do so.

Lee agreed saying, “It’s like Steph Curry handing LeBron the ball and saying ‘Take a shot…on me!’

When I first read Debra’s comments without the full context, I felt like it was a little counterproductive and hinted at a “crabs in a barrel” mentality. But after watching it, with a bit more insight, I can understand where she’s coming from. She’s responsible for a lot of people and I know Debra and ‘nem have got to eat.

But also, I believe in there being room for everyone and certainly in the idea of wanting to help other Black folk to dominate in the industry.

If you ask me, Revolt is nothing like BET. OWN is nothing like BET, TV One is closer but still, not all that much like BET. There is room for all of them. And most Black people will watch all of these networks if they cater to our interests. Maybe this is why I’m not in business because I don’t see how this is a problem.

Now, I don’t believe Debra should have sat down and discussed BET’s strategy and programming with Diddy but certainly there is a level of insight she could have provided that would be of service to him as another Black man trying to present content to Black people and still maintain her loyalty and integrity as the head of BET.

Obviously, she felt she couldn’t without sacrificing her own position. And to me, that seems just like a crabs in a barrel type situation. Scared to band together and help one another because of the fear that you’ll be left behind.
Again, I’m not a businesswoman and the idea of Corporate America and the way they get down generally turns my stomach. These days we’re trying to retrain ourselves to believe that there is room for all of us, while Corporate America is operating in direct opposition to that. We know that neither BET or Revolt or any other single network could ever be all things to all Black people so why not help the people who are speaking to a different, but still Black audience?

My friend said that Debra Lee didn’t know when Diddy approached her that Revolt would be so different from BET. And that’s true, she could have believed it was a type of clone network. But perhaps a lot of her fears could have been alleviated if she’d been willing to have a conversation with him.

What do you think about Debra Lee’s comments?

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