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What's in Store for BET Awards?

TONY COX, host:

This is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Tony Cox, in for Farai Chideya.

Well, it's Friday. That means it's time to talk lifestyle and trends. And next Tuesday, BET rolls out the red carpet for its 2007 awards. They're taking place right here in the City of Angels at the Shrine Auditorium. And to talk about the awards, with us now is Emmy Award-winning journalist himself and BET producer, Mr. P. Frank Williams. What's up, P. Frank?

Mr. P. FRANK WILLIAMS (Producer, Black Entertainment Television): What's happening everybody? How you guys feeling today?

COX: I'm glad to have you with us. So how good a show is this going to be? Last year it was - BET is the number one show.

Mr. WILLIAMS: Well, I mean, this is the number-one rated cable - awards show on cable. And so other than the Grammys, this is the place to be in terms of being a performer in music and culture. Man, we got Monique hosting. I mean, you know, she's always kind of buck-wild.

COX: Yes, she is.

Mr. WILLIAMS: All your favorite rappers - T-Eye, 50 Cent, Jay-Z and all your R & B folks, (unintelligible). It's going to be a hell of a night, man, really a lot of fun.

COX: There must be some greats effect - I know there are because I've gone one time, I think - there are some great stories surrounding award shows generally. But particularly, the BET Awards are - just in terms of the people that are involved, things that go on backstage, the preparation during the show, after the show, (unintelligible)...

Mr. WILLIAMS: I mean, you can only imagine. I mean, some of the egos and dramas that would go from some of these folks that are around. And so everybody thinks that they're important, you know what I mean? So it's one of those fun things. And obviously, you got the - this year, we're honoring Diana Ross with a Lifetime Achievement Award.

And actually(ph) there is no short list of Diana Ross moments where she may live up to her diva-dom, so I'm sure there are some folks around who have kind of felt that wrath.

COX: Yeah.

Mr. WILLIAMS: And we can't get them into specifics because I have to get paid.

COX: I just said that.

Mr. WILLIAMS: Didn't you say it?

COX: I don't know....

Mr. WILLIAMS: (unintelligible) ignite and I mean, with folks like Monique, you know, they want their treatment correctly. So, you know, I won't be the source of words, we're not going to have any drama backstage in (unintelligible) because it's classy night. But you can best believe in egos will be flying in over a good time.

COX: Now, in the years that you've been associated with the BET Awards, who has had the largest entourage? Who's come with the most folks?

Mr. WILLIAMS: Well, obviously, 50 Cent and P. Diddy have to be up there in terms of, man, I mean, obviously 50 Cent, he needs it because he doesn't have all that many friends in the industry, you don't want to - whatever. But it has to be - either that or Snoop Dogg. Because when Snoop Dogg shows up, there's at least 15 other people with Snoop Dogg, you know, and P. Diddy also. So but they're peaceful posses, you know.

COX: Yeah? How long does it take to put the show actually together? Apart from what we end up seeing on television, how long the evening is...

Mr. WILLIAMS: Well, this has been going on for months in terms of negotiation of special performances and pretty much when you turn off the TV from last year's show, the next one is kind of still emotions.

So I mean, you think of something like this year's show, we have a tribute to James Brown and you may see the symbol there. Mr. Prince might be (unintelligible) on stage. You might see Chucky doing his thing, you know. So these negotiations make sure that people's calendars are okay.

Creatively, they're my - we're also doing a tribute to Gerald Levert. So there will be a lot of different kind of good stuff happening there. So, it's a long process, man. This is a lot, man, to deal with three hours of TV and some of the biggest celebrities in the world. You can only imagine.

COX: How do you deal with acceptance speeches? What do you tell (unintelligible)?

Mr. WILLIAMS: Oh, yeah, you got that. Well, it's ironic I just get a different(ph) show - I won't say the name of it - and there was a gentleman named Cosby and he is known for saying what he wants to say when he wants to say it.

So even though we said, hey, you got two minutes, he pretty much say, hey, you know, I'm not - I'm going to say what I'm going to say. But nine times out of ten, we tell folks, you got a minute and a half, and, you know, or two minutes and you can say what you want to say. But after that, you get the red light in the back. We won't cut off your mike but you might hear some music.

COX: Some music.

Mr. WILLIAMS: Exactly.

COX: We hear it every year.

Mr. WILLIAMS: And that's going to happen.

COX: God is in - God will be in the house. I want to thank God, I want thank -you were involved in the production of some of the segments this year, right?

Mr. WILLIAMS: Yes. So I, you know, what I do is obviously on a lot of shows I got producer's (unintelligible) awards, and five awards and also produced a lot of the BET News special, like Tupac and Biggie and stuff like that.

And, you know, what I'll do is I'll go out. Diana Ross is getting a Lifetime Achievement Award so I'll find all the elements of her life and kind of do like a tribute to her. And obviously, she's somebody who set the tone in a bar for Beyonces and Mariah Careys of the world.

And so you know, put together,a life story of her life. And Don Cheadle this year is also getting the Humanitarian Award so I produced those segments and write. I mean, I try to make sure that I get, you know, beyond the music and the party and then the hip-hop and all of the little shake-your-booty moments.

You folks like Diana Ross, who pioneered, you know, for African-American women at the time in the '60s when we didn't have as many opportunities. And now, the days we're getting more so it's important also to note those folks.

And Don Cheadle. I mean, Don has been taking his celebrity for more than just getting some free swag

COX: Sure, you're right.

Mr. WILLIAMS: But, you know what I mean? Over the (unintelligible), trying to raise money for Africa and stuff like that. So when I do those things, I want to make sure we take a pause not just to, you know, to party but to kind of revel in what we're doing as celebrities, you know.

COX: Let's talk a little bit about the venue because you've moved - the Shrine Auditorium, for people that don't know, is one of the oldest major venues in Los Angeles. But when the Kodak Theater was built where they do the Academy Awards, I know you guys went there and you've moved around.

Talk about how you decide where to hold the tapings...

Mr. WILLIAMS: Well, that's always a point of logistics and sometimes the production managers, you know, that's probably a better question for them. But I know at the Kodak, that's the big splashy Hollywood moment.

You wanted to show your arrival(ph) and, you know, for me in terms of working a lot of these shows, the Shrine is the most functional and maybe the oldest. Sometimes, the best is the oldest, you know, and it has hosted so many shows: Academy Awards, Grammys - and it's big enough to get everything done and may, you know, you may not run after many hurdles as you would at the Kodak because, you know, the Kodak is - I guess you could say the Kodak is the Nicole Kidman...

COX: Yeah.

Mr. WILLIAMS: ...of this situation. And you got the Shrine, which is your steady kind of, you know, good actress that's been around for a while.

COX: Yeah. People don't know that the Shrine is really in the 'hood. They don't really know that.

Mr. WILLIAMS: Yeah but that's a good thing. You know, it's better for a BET Awards, you know. That gives us a chance to put the fans right in South Central. They don't have to drive too far.

COX: No, we don't.

Mr. WILLIAMS: And sit on (unintelligible) a car, you know what I mean?

COX: Let's talk about this for a minute, P. Frank. Only three white artists have been nominated for a BET Award. I think Justin Timberlake, Eminem, who didn't win, Robin Thicke is up, I understand, this time around.

Mr. WILLIAMS: Yeah. Robin Thicke, yeah.

COX: You think that's going to happen? Are we about to breakthrough with this?

Mr. WILLIAMS: I mean, Robin Thicke has had a phenomenal year. I mean, he really has, you know, I hate to say it but I got to keep it real. It's that white soul, you know. Not everybody - black people we have a high bar. If you - you might be posing as a soul (unintelligible) but if we really don't feel you, we're not going to give you our stamp.

So I think it may be Robin Thicke's year. I mean, he was on "Oprah." You get the stamp from Oprah, BET - we might have to give it you, do you know what I mean?

(Soundbite of laughter)

COX: I feel you. I'm feeling you.

Mr. WILLIAMS: Exactly.

COX: The best R & B category has got a whole lineup of amazing talent including Beyonce, Corinne Bailey Ray, Jennifer Hudson, Mary J. Blige. How do you think that's going to play out this year?

Mr. WILLIAMS: That's one of those things. I mean, you got to the top-tier folks, you know. Mary J. and Beyonce are pretty much the queens of it whereas, you know, Ciara is like the, quote, "new Janet Jackson." And Jennifer Hudson had a heck of a year, too. I don't think that she, you know, did as much in terms of singing as much as those other folks.

But nine times out of 10 you know, Mary J. and Beyonce that's the heavy hitters as a cleanup, Alex Rodriguezes of the situation, you know.

COX: Yeah. And in the male side, we already talked a little bit about Robin Thicke but the competition for best male is pretty tough there, too, right?

Mr. WILLIAMS: I mean, I'm thinking that, you know, Akon, man, the guy has been all over the place really doing his thing. And John Legend, I think, has pushed it into the mainstream so he's a bigger star I think beyond the black community.

But I also wouldn't count out Gerald Levert, I mean, and unfortunately, he passed away but might be doing those sentimental favorites so that even if somebody had a better year on the charts, you might want to give this guy his props, you know, because he left us.

COX: Let me ask you this. It's slightly political but it's - because of all the hoopla about the lyrics in hip-hop and in rap music, do you think because it's an awards show that who ends up winning will be any kind of a statement about that issue at all?

Mr. WILLIAMS: Well, I think, you know, it's funny because, you know, in the mainstream, we have this conversation and everybody's talking about hip-hop has affected us negatively and, all these things.

But I think in the black community, it's more of a nuance thing where we get it, like we're able to separate it, I think, from the reality versus what really happens, you know. Since we have done a lot of interviewing, and talking to people and young women who are black don't necessarily see themselves as hos and bitches even though some rapper say that.

So I think they will listen to the music but don't see themselves that way.

COX: I understand.

Mr. WILLIAMS: So a lot of rappers, who may be putting out that violent imagery and doing whatever, they feel like they got to do that because that's what the public wants.

And so I think with the BET Awards, none of that has to do with it. I think it's the hotness factor, who people are really feeling. This is something that the viewers vote on and, you know, it's one of those things so it's not as if, you know. I think our public knows what's up with our artist. It has nothing to do with, you know...

COX: With any other stuff?

Mr. WILLIAMS: Exactly.

COX: And, you know, the Academy Awards, they deal a whole lot in the red carpet and what people are wearing and all of that. And the BET awards, there's some of that but not to the same extent, is it?

Mr. WILLIAMS: This show, really when it boils down to (unintelligible) why it's the number one radio cable, you know, awards show on cable, It's about the performances, you know. And I've worked on a lot of other shows and tried to come up with these jokes and this banter, this show is about dazzling performances. A few years ago, Monique came out and did the Beyonce, uh-oh, uh-oh, uh-oh, uh-oh, and that was a hell of a moment. We, you know, reunited the Fugees in 2005 and they came on out of the blue.

Last year, Beyonce stunned them. You know, we had Michael Jackson and James Brown come on stage. So it really is about the music and BET is really a music station. And so - but, you know, let's keep it real. Everybody has been calling me, what you're going to wear? And I haven't got my outfit together for the show. No - we black men, we have to make sure that your outfit.

COX: Got a real outfit.

Mr. WILLIAMS: Yeah, you know, you can't come in and look crazy. So as much as it's about the music, it's very much about the fashion.

COX: P. Frank, this is great. We got about a minute left, little less than that. Do you anticipate there being another one of those moments that you talked about in the past? Is there going to be a moment in the BET Awards this year?

Mr. WILLIAMS: Well, I mean, like I said. I mean, I think that when you think about Prince getting on stage and Chuck D. doing the thing with James Brown. That's going to be a heck of a moment. And also the Diana Ross tribute, I think will be a fantastic moment because she has great music that she contributes. But definitely check on the show, it airs this Tuesday on BET, June 26th, 8 o'clock Eastern Time, and same time on the West Coast, man.

COX: We will be watching, watching, watching. P. Frank, thank you very much for coming in. We appreciate it.

Mr. WILLIAMS: You guys have a fantastic day.

COX: P. Frank Williams is the producer for BET and an Emmy Award-winning journalist. He joined me right here in our NPR West studios. You can see the awards yourself next Tuesday on BET. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.