Why Are You Sleeping On “Don’t Sleep”? Just Admit It, You Prefer Ratchet Television.

November 16, 2012  |  

Quick, tell me who was the guest on last night’s episode of TJ Holmes’ comedy news program, “Don’t Sleep”?

Don’t feel bad if you don’t know because I don’t either. I don’t have television, let alone cable, so that’s my excuse. And since nobody has been giving me the minute by minute rundown of the show via Facebook like they do an episode of “Scandal,” I assume that most people haven’t been checking for it either.

A little over a month old, “Don’t Sleep,” which from its description reads like a black version of “The Daily Show,” has been struggling in the viewership department. Although its premiere episode had people excited for BET’s newest addition into the more newsy side of black entertainment, the show has failed to connect with viewers, and its ratings have dropped significantly from a high of 1 million views to as low as 203,000 views. As a result, “Don’t Sleep” will now be reduced down to an hour once a week, instead of its current nightly schedule.

Debra Lee, chief executive officer for BET, reportedly told The Grio, “To be honest, the ratings haven’t been great in the past two weeks. Our audience always says they want this kind of programming, but they don’t show up.” This is certainly not a good sign for Holmes, who left his cushy job at CNN to make a name for himself at BET.

Maybe Lee does have a point. It certainly seems that despite black folks’ public declaration and demands that BET show more positive and informative programming, we are just not tuning in and bringing the numbers needed to make such programming sustainable. The only conclusion I can deduct is that we just love the ratchetness.  Just admit it: there is something entertaining and appealing about watching grown women in leopard-print platform heels with faces beat to Maybelline heaven, arguing and occasionally fist fighting over, “You don’t know me,” or the rebuttal of, “Naw, don’t get it twisted, you don’t know me!”  It’s melodramatic, full of fantasy (i.e. money, big houses, Louboutins, marital statuses, etc…), ridiculously immoral and a little unprincipled. For the most part, good reality television shows are a lot like daytime soap operas. And everybody knows daytime soap operas are the definition of ratchetness, just without all the reality.

Likewise, despite the ire that most television shows featuring black characters have received from the community for their stereotypical portrayals of us, there is no denying that many of “us” still tune in regularly every week for the foolish and the salacious on television. This is why shows like “Scandal,” which is basically a scripted show about ratchetness going down in Washington, and most reality television shows, which are straight up and down ratchetness, leads the pack in ratings in black households. According to the numbers at Target Market News, VH1 remains the most watched cable network in black households, thanks to shows like “T.I. & Tiny: The Family Hustle,” “Chrissy & Mr. Jones” and “Basketball Wives: LA.” All those shows are based around what some folks would describe as ratchet people (aside from T.I. and his lady…maybe). Coincidence?

This doesn’t seem like a good sign for a black news show that hails itself as a black version of “The Daily Show.” Not only does “Don’t Sleep,” which airs in the 11 p.m. EST slot, have fewer ratings than “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report,” but it is also trailing behind reruns of “Family Guy” and some show called “Duck Dynasty” (I just Googled it and all I got to say is what the hell kind of hillbilly nonsense are you watching America?).  Even Andy Cohen’s “Watch What Happens: Live,” which is a talk show based around replaying everything that happened on an Andy Cohen-produced ratchet reality shows you just watched, received more viewers per show than Holmes’s show.

So does that mean that Holmes’ talk show is doomed? Not if they can reformat it to compete with all the ratchetness.  As Tambay Obenson, of Shadow and Act recently wrote about “Don’t Sleep,” the show needs to be more edgier if it is going to compete with the likes of Bill Maher, Jon Stewart and Steve Colbert as well as reach its targeted demographic of 18 to 49 year olds:

“And I’m not even talking about tossing a few curse words in, every now and then. But given how rapidly it seemed to move along from one segment to the next, as well as the music used in transition, and at times in the background while Holmes spoke (one thing I suggest they don’t continue to do), it’s clear that the producers are going for something cool and hip; tackling serious issues that are of importance to the black community in the USA, but not being too earnest or severe with the delivery, which should keep its younger audience edutained – the key word.”

For the purpose of this post, I ended up catching a couple of episodes online. It’s not bad, but from what I’ve seen in certain elements of the show, particularly the parts where he is clearly trying to be the black version of “The Colbert Report” with the humor, it feels a bit contrived. Like, Holmes is trying way too hard to be cool, funny and hip – and in the process looks uncomfortable doing it all. For example, in one segment of the show, Holmes is speaking about the chair lynching story, when he decided to break out into this soliloquy over a finger-snapping, neo-soulish jazz beat. It took me a minute to realize that he was attempting spoken word. In this instance, the “edgy” vibe just doesn’t seem natural to him.

However, what does work for Holmes is being the straight and direct moderator and letting the drama happen around him, like in the segments of the show when he is leading panel discussions involving black intellectuals and celebrities. Investing more time and energy in smart yet edgier guests like Cynthia McKinney, Louis Farrakhan, Cornel West, Mos Def, etc., would definitely provide the color needed to balance out Holmes’ conservative style. It would add the little spice you need to quench some of that ratchet loving thirst.

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  • DianaDT

    It very well may be a good show but BET lost me as an audience a long time ago. It makes sense that the number are low because the very audience they are trying to reach have tuned out already. It almost feels as if they did the show to say, ” hey we tried”.

  • “To be honest, the ratings haven’t been great in the past two weeks. Our audience always says they want this kind of programming, but they don’t show up.”

    I would think that Debra Lee would realize that 11:00 on a weeknight is way too late. I mean, on Comedy Central, the new episodes of the Daily Show and Colbert Report do come on late too, but they re-air the next day at 7:00 and 7:30 respectively. Maybe BET should re-air the episodes at 8:00 the next day or something. It seems like they don’t even want shows like this to succeed on BET.

  • Cleo

    Well I don’t watch tv at all so there is my reason. He should have kept his job with CNN, I mean seriously who leaves CNN for BET??

  • scandalous7

    Bet should just read these comments and take note.

  • Rebecca

    The reason why I don’t watch this show is because of the time slot. Like most of the commentors below, should BET re-schedule the timing to prime time and just re-play it at late night, I would give it try. I’ve been following TJ’s career from his time at CNN on weekend, and I really want him to BET

  • LG

    I’ve never watched the show because the commercials reveal to me that this guy is trying way too hard to be funny, cool, and hip! I don’t know if it’s the host or the format but I am not impressed so I don’t watch. It doesn’t mean I don’t like smart programming. I don’t like insulting programming that assumes I need my news shucked and jived.

    I’d also like to point out that even though Scandal is called Scandal, it is intelligent programming and should be praised as such. I’m a little offended by the attempts to put the show Scandal in the same category as reality TV shows such as BBW. This show portrays a highly intelligent career woman and her humanity. It’s NOT the same.

  • Chassie

    nope, actually, i just prefer to read a book

  • Meyaka

    It comes on way to late for me, i work early in the morning,and rarely have days off… If they start releasing it on iTunes,i will definitively watch. Why not show it on a much suitable time,and retire all the other shows…Forever…

  • Candacey Doris

    you know, i don’t even know what time this comes on. Now that i know it’s struggling, I’ll watch. Last thing i want is for this to go off air in favor of another RHOA type show.

  • Ms_Mara

    They name the show ‘Don’t Sleep’ but it comes on at 11 pm. I am most definitely trying to sleep by that time. This complaint was voiced by LOTS of people long before it first aired, too. Why put a worthwhile show like this on so late? It’s almost like they set it up to fail.

  • dirtychai

    Don’t Sleep is just not a good show. It has good intentions, but it’s simply painful to watch. I loved T.J. Holmes on CNN. He’s a great journalist. However this trying to make the Black Daily Show is a fail, because Stewart, Colbert, and Maher are comedians who happen to be smart — not smart dudes trying to be comedians. Also the pop star panels that he has on lend no intellectual insight whatsoever.

  • BP

    I agree with many on here.
    1. I honestly was not aware of this show until recently. I don’t really watch BET b/c the programming didn’t really interest me.
    2. Those of us interested in better programs tend to work & have lives. Why can’t there be quality prime time programming shown earlier?
    In my opinion, BET has lost touch with its original purpose, and they could stand to regroup. There may be certain things popular in culture at the moment, but sometimes you have to stand out from it. BET has become just 1 in a sea of many.

  • Ahvey

    BET needs to make some adjustments. For one, the show comes on too late. The show should come on sometime between 4 and 9. Second, Holmes doesn’t sound at ease with his satire way of giving news…it doesn’t sound natural. He needs to develop his own niche so everything will flow. Third, the show is somewhat too short. Important topics are discussed for only a few minutes. Maybe the show should be one hour? BET could also try maybe incorporating the show with 106 somehow to attract more younger audiences.

  • It needs a better time slot! It comes on to late for me!!

  • CommonSenseAin’tSoCommon

    People need to stop with the excuses. Whenever you really want something you get it point blank period. Just like the Daily Show and Colbert Report has a crazy following and they come on late as well with a audience of working people. I’ll be honest I stay up to watch those shows because I like them, eyes burning and all even though I could just watch a rerun. I’m not part of the crew crying about positive to shows. I say you don’t like something just don’t watch but people need to be real.The reason I didn’t watch is because I like other shows better that come on at that time. If TJ was giving away a million dollars each episode the ratings would be threw the roof. Don’t cry if you don’t really want things to change.

  • TallGyal7

    I would watch it, but I cut my cable down to basic to save money. I don’t get that channel. I also agree with some of the other comments stating that it comes on too late. I think 8pm or 9pm would be a better time.

  • I don’t watch it because it comes on too late…. I’m sleep by 10, latest 11pm…I keep wanting to watch it tho

  • 777

    The show airs at 1100PM here in MD and I’m usually in the bed snoring by then. They need to change the time to 800PM or earlier.

  • sexcgenius

    I don’t even know the channel for BET. I am going to tell my age with this one, but after Donnie Simpson, Bev Smith, and that whole era before they sold out to viacom, they lost me with the foolishness. If “don’t sleep” is such a priority to the network, why don’t they cut some of their BS line up to air this show at a realistic time and in a decent format? They are pissing in the viewers faces and telling them it’s raining.

  • Donut

    “Our audience always says they want this kind of programming, but they don’t show up”…
    What is “this kind of programming? Let’s begin with the title. ‘Don’t Sleep’ is 1990’s vernacular that is being used just as your old uncle makes a painful attempt to use slang to look cool. 2 – TJ Holmes is a smart Brotha but he is not a comedian and does not have the charisma to deliver jokes as one. I only have so many courtesy laughs in me to support our Folk. 3 – TJ is a talented journalist but serves mainly as a moderator as opposed to expressing a strong opinion on any issue. Most hosts of news shows today garner most of their audience because of their charisma, which is usually tied to how (in their own unique way) present issues to us with a distinct personal flare.

    And so what if folx like rachet TV. Don’t assume we are watching it instead of ‘Don’t Sleep.’ BET should recognize this is an experiment. Just because it didn’t go as planned don’t blame us. Go back to the drawing board and instead of trying to be the Black version of something else, identify the distinct talents of your team and create something unique to speak for BET and to us.

    • #BOOM

    • I don’t think BET is drawing a conclusion based on this show alone, but the expected viewing habits of black people. We wag our finger at Tyler Perry for her character, Madea. We have been whining and complaining about having “quality” TV, yet historically, when “quality TV” involves anything but comedy, sex, or whatever, we won’t watch.

      Either we want quality TV or we want to continue to fill our lives with rachetness as in these reality shows. Blacks are making VH-1 a hit.

      The hypocrisy of many in our community is blinding. Many will watch a video of someone going off on a bus, chastise said person, yet raise the ratchet ratings through the roof.

      Let’s face it. We don’t want quality. Many of us want to fill our boring lives ingesting the lives of others on TV. It’s really pitiful.

  • Cause i dont watch BET whatsoever.

  • cool&collect

    I love the but they show it @ the worst time. However I don’t understand why they don’t show it twice (one @10pm & whatever time during the day) but they can show Wendy Williams twice.

    • MissTeeBR

      According to the incorrect progamming of my DVR, they do show it twice. The second showing comes on at 7 or 7:30 am central time….when people are at work or on their way:(

      • They re-air it at 7 in the morning??? BET seems like they want this show to be cancelled or something.

  • SheBe

    The group that is requesting better entertainment consists of individuals who work and have families. That means an earlier bedtime for most of that group. How about showing it after 106 and Park instead of whatever foolery they put on?

    • Ashe

      I agree. I don’t have a family, but it is usually going off around the time I am coming home. They should definitely have it on earlier.

  • Shawn

    We do really need to support positive television that BET is attempting to try to do. This does need to be support this.

    • Butta

      I agree. I love it. At first glance i didn’t think he was the typical black guy that i was used to seeing and he seemed uneasy. I returned to see the show everynight via DVR and loved the topics and his comedy. I have just gotten used to his dry humor and if its him, a TJ you couldn’t see at CNN then of course it is unnatural to you because its not how you are used to seeing him. I have accepted him and the more I watch him the more comfortable he gets. He is trying to lead the way for positive shows on BET (a show I haven’t watched in a years 7+) because they didn’t have anything geared towards me. As a 30 something woman who is educated, i see that if i don’t expose myself or children to quality role models and news then my children will think it is ok to act rachet and the world will be ruined. I personally grew up loving the Cosby show and other positive shows that were entertaining without making myself or culture feel like fools. If we want to KEEP saying whats wrong with these kids today then keep tuning into them ratchet shows which will be the everyday norm in your world. Soon everyone you come in contact with will be ratchet like the people that serve your food, wash your car, work with, work for, need for services (dry clean) etc. If yall keep this up then I’m moving away to a better place to raise my kids.

  • ANTMilf

    As much I want to see Don’t Sleep with fine a$$ TJ Holmes as often as I wanted to, I go to night school for computer networking and I get out at 10PM (the same time TJ’s show comes on here in Chicago) and I don’t get home until 10:45PM, 15 minutes after the show went off. I got to see the first episode and I liked it, just wish it doesn’t come on so late. I wish his show would come on like 3PM when I’m home and just picked up my daughter from school. So no I don’t watch ratchet TV shows like BGC, BBWs and LHH. Also TJ show doesn’t air reruns like a basic cable network usually does with their shows.

  • rzakia

    I watched the show election night and I didn’t think it was a bad show. I just prefer the Colbert Report and The Daily show personally.

  • MIYO K.

    There are some of us who do not watch BBW and RHW of whatever city and all that other mess.

  • IllyPhilly

    I know nothing of BET when The Game is off season.