By Andrea Williams
The media is full of reports depicting the dire state of urban television, and black programming in particular. Critics claim that we are portrayed in a one-dimensional light — as angry, loud-mouthed “housewives” or uber-rich athletes and recording artists with swagger and bling to spare.
Now Regi Allen, senior editor at the Discovery Channel and 20-plus year veteran of the television industry, is ready to do something about it. With his FunkTV – currently broadcast via the internet, but coming soon to a cable provider near you – Allen seeks to provide some much needed diversity in Black television.
Here, he talks to The Atlanta Post about his struggles, his motivations and how he wants you to help him program the network.
How was the seed for FunkTV first planted?
When I see every urban-based network that happens on a broadcast level, it is always the same incarnation of what BET is. TVOne and Centric both claim that they are not BET, but they pretty much are. It just breaks my heart that no one says, “Let’s do the alternative,” in the sense of covering the skateboard culture, or Afropunk, or the underground hip hop scene, or global cinema or independent Black, Latino and Asian cinema. Each of these subcultures is HUGE and they can be branded and molded into a very palatable, attractive television narrative. And I just can’t believe that no one has tried to put that together.
So how will FunkTV be different from all of the other urban networks?
I think that now, young people that watch urban TV only see one small part of what it means to really be expressive and black and to be creative. But with FunkTV we want to use technology to make this whole experience interactive. The TV experience as we know it now is very one-dimensional. They decide what to broadcast to you. But with FunkTV we’re very interested in having a two-way conversation. We want the viewer to help us program the network. You send us your videos, or produce a promo for us or come on one of the shows and play a role. We’re really putting the ‘U’ in Funk.
A full-fledged television network is a pretty big undertaking. Did you ever consider starting smaller?
My partners are constantly asking me, “Why don’t we just build this on the internet?” Or they’ll say, “Let’s just do a show called FunkTV and someone can pick it up.” First of all, we can’t compete with internet television entities. There are tons of cool, Black internet channels out there like Karmaloop and Creative Control, and they’re funded. Second, the reason that I am so excited about a TV network – a television broadcast entity – is because one doesn’t exist. Its really weird, but you would think that if you turn on the TV you would find another black network that’s showing something different. So I’m thinking, “What if I do such an extreme departure from BET and provide that niche for an underserved market?”