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‘First Wives Club’ is Terrific, But Can Devin Griffin’s BET+ Find an Audience for It? – Decider

Netflix’s shaky share price, Amazon’s surprising Emmy haul, the start of the broadcast season, and new details about upcoming streamers Disney+, Apple TV+, HBO Max and Peacock have dominated the streaming headlines over the last few weeks.

In all the commotion, the launch of BET+ and the premiere of First Wives Club may have slipped under your radar. There are live alpacas, Jill Scott does peyote, Michelle Buteau does the splits, and Method Man does a great guest spot as an eccentric record producer. Showrunner Tracy Oliver (Girls Trip) brings raunch and heart. You’re on notice — like a cheating husband getting served with divorce papers — that it’s terrific.

The challenge for Viacom is getting viewers to see it. First Wives Club streams on the brand new BET+ service in a TV landscape where 500-plus original scripted shows will air this year. More than 50 new and returning shows premiere this week on the broadcast networks, and Apple TV+ and Disney+ both launch in the next six weeks.

BET+ general manager Devin Griffin sat down with Decider to talk about the service’s launch, his programming strategy, and why he thinks African-American audiences are primed for BET’s take on streaming.

DECIDER: BET+ is a joint venture with Tyler Perry. Will you have his entire catalog?

DEVIN GRIFFIN: We’re going to have an exclusive offering that will cover a lot of his library. We’ll have almost all of his TV shows and a rotating offering of his film titles.

He’s producing some originals for BET and BET+.

That’s right. BET+ will have an original series from Tyler Perry soon that will be dark and dramatic and borrow from some storytelling that people will recognize, and shortly after he’ll have another series.

And he’s making a scripted show set in the White House.

Right. He’s making The Oval for the linear BET network.

How will you program BET+ originals and BET linear originals on BET+? Will BET shows air the next day on BET+? Ninety days later on BET+?

We think about BET linear and BET+ as complementary. We ask producers to bring us their best and most exciting stories and — based on what makes the most sense for BET — we decide where to put it. BET+ will have its own exclusive originals premiering about once a month. For windowing BET linear shows on BET+, all options are on the table.

Does your research tell you whether your first wave of subscribers will be cord-cutters or BET cable viewers who want more programming?

The research tells us that African-Americans generally consume more content than the broader population — regardless of device and regardless of linear or streaming — and put a huge premium on having top-shelf content available to them anytime and any place. Our core BET audience has an appetite to get more of the storytelling we love to do, and there are lots of folks who have either never been in the cable ecosystem or have decided to transition out of it that BET+ gives us a chance to reach in a new way.

You came from Netflix. Did you come away from that experience thinking viewers had fairly predictable behavior — they like these show so they’ll like these other three shows — or that it’s much more random than that?

It’s the trillion-dollar question we’re trying to answer. Viewers leave breadcrumbs that you can use data to leverage, but there are connections you might not anticipate. When you go out find things you don’t anticipate, that’s where the magic happens. We’re always looking for opportunities to meet people where they are and also bring them new ideas they haven’t even thought about yet that they might want to see.

Is it fair to assume from the BET+ $10-a-month price point and the first two originals — First Wives Club and Bigger — revolving around female characters that you’re programming for higher-income women?

The black female viewer has always been core to BET, and bringing the perspective of folks who aren’t always depicted on TV is what we take great pride in doing. The two shows you mentioned continue BET’s legacy of speaking truth to power and letting talented creators tell the stories that light them up. That’s what connects with our audience.

Michelle Buteau is great in First Wives Club, and she’s playing an orthopedic surgeon. Jill Scott is playing a recording artist, and Ryan Michelle Bathe is playing an attorney whose husband is running for Senate. Do you see that as an aspirational show?

BET wants the stories we tell to be representative of all walks of life, and it’s imperative for us to entertain and educate but also empower. We put a lot of value on those aspirational things you’re talking about, but we’re going to tell stories over time that depict a broad array of black experiences. You can find things in many different strata of society that are inspiring as aspirational.

You put out First Wives Club as a binge, and Bigger will post new episodes weekly. Is that an experiment in how people will watch BET+, or did you see those shows working better with different distribution approaches?

We wanted to make sure viewers had something to binge that would give them a sense of the voice and tone and goals are for BET+, and we’ll have new originals coming all the time with different release models and get feedback from viewers about those release models.

Are you taping original comedy specials for BET+?

Definitely, yes. Original standup comedy is in the DNA and legacy of BET. I grew up a big fan of ComicView, and we’ll be doing original BET+ specials and releasing more and more of the ComicView library.

How are you thinking about BET+ in an election year in 2020? Do you want to be a diversion from politics, or do you want to engage in that with news or documentaries or a late-night show?

BET has a presence in the world of politics and bringing the African-American experience to that, so you’ll definitely see that across the BET family leading up to the election. When there are opportunities for BET+, we’ll certainly take a hard look at that.

How are you thinking about comedy, drama, unscripted, news, documentary, etc.? Are there particular genres where you want to make a statement?

We take a best-story, best-project approach. We’ll shade more toward scripted TV and film, and we’re looking at some interesting ideas in the nonfiction space.

BET+ was close to launch when the Viacom-CBS merger came together. Do you the merger having plusses for BET+ in terms of access to shows or marketing or other factors?

We’re excited to be moving down that path, but we’re not at a place where I can comment on that directly.

BET+ was available at launch on Amazon and Apple devices. Are those the only platforms currently available?

We’re also on Android TV and other Android devices.

Are you planning to launch on Roku and Samsung? Do you want to be available as an add-on to services like Hulu and Xfinity X1?

We’re certainly looking at being fully covered across the major platforms. We have relationships with most or all of those platforms, and we’re definitely looking at what the right opportunities are to expand our distribution footprint.

Do you have plans in motion for BET+ to become an add-on to CBS All Access or Showtime, which will be corporate siblings when the Viacom-CBS merger is completed?

I can’t comment on anything that might be in motion there.

There are several BET channels on Viacom’s Pluto TV service. Do you have BET+ ads running already on some of those channels?

We definitely do. We view our consumer-facing brands including Pluto TV as a big ecosystem that creates a virtuous loop for us.

Did Disney+ and Apple TV+ announcing lower than expected pricing give you any pause about a $10-a-month price point for BET+?

We’re in an extremely dynamic market, and the good news for us is that consumers have told us they value premium content. They love the idea that we’re going to roll out new originals roughly every month. To deliver what our target audience wants, $9.99 is a price point that makes a lot of sense to us. And as we go, we’ll continue to learn.

Scott Porch writes about the TV business for Decider and is a contributing writer for The Daily Beast. You can follow him on Twitter @ScottPorch.

Stream First Wives Club on BET+