T. J. Holmes, after leaving CNN, brings news-centered show to BET

T.J. Holmes left CNN to star in BET’s new late night series Don’t Sleep! Hosted by T.J. Holmes, which premieres at 11 p.m. tonight.

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T.J. Holmes left CNN to star in BET’s new late night series Don’t Sleep! Hosted by T.J. Holmes, which premieres at 11 p.m. tonight.

When news broke late last year that anchor T. J. Holmes was leaving a comfortable perch at CNN for a "multi-platform talent deal" with the Black Entertainment Television cable channel, there was just one question left to ask.

What the heck would he actually be doing on air?

Rumors flew. He would be doing a black-oriented, topical comedy show, sort of an African-American Daily Show. Or he might be doing a late night talk show; an update on Arsenio with news chops.

It turns out Don't Sleep! Hosted by T.J. Holmes may be more like comic Bill Maher's HBO show Real Time a topical, news-centered talk show featuring some commentary from Holmes, interviews with newsmakers and discussion with a panel of experts.

"We understand, you can't just give people information like a news broadcast. It's 11 at night, people don't want to see CNN on BET," said Holmes, laughing. "You're talking to (viewers) where they are, in a conversational way that engages the audience."

Holmes is straight up about the focus on creating a platform for discussing issues relating to black people and those who care about African-American culture.

But try as I might, I couldn't get him to dish details on the most pressing question I had: Did he leave CNN because he hit a glass ceiling for black men?

The list of black male anchors formerly at CNN includes Tony Harris (gone in 2010) now at Al Jazeera English, and Leon Harris (left in 2003) now in local television in Washington, D.C.

Don Lemon remains on weekends, joined this summer by Victor Blackwell, an African-American anchor and correspondent from West Palm Beach who also works weekends.

"People can turn on the TV and come to their own conclusions about how well CNN is doing featuring minorities in a prime spot," said Holmes (currently, there are no people of color hosting shows on the channel past 2 p.m. weekdays). "Coming to BET was more about the opportunity here."

Other news personalities have also gone to BET, only to find selling the channel's often-young, pop culture-centered audience on news shows is more difficult than you might think.

And even as rival channels present their own black-centered entertainment shows at night — including Comedy Central's Key and Peele and FX's Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell — Holmes offers a tough-to-define show hosted by a guy mostly known for reading straight news on CNN.

Stories under discussion might include reports that people have lynched empty chairs in reference to Clint Eastwood's discussion with an invisible President Barack Obama at the GOP convention.

Holmes will present his own opinions, alongside a panel featuring personalities such as Georgetown University professor Michael Eric Dyson.

"There's conversations black people can have with each other that would be considered rude or offensive coming from someone outside the group," he said. "We can have conversations honestly with each other that are like nothing else you'll see on TV."

.What to Watch

Don't Sleep!

Hosted by T. J. Holmes debuts at 11 tonight on BET.

T. J. Holmes, after leaving CNN, brings news-centered show to BET 09/30/12 [Last modified: Sunday, September 30, 2012 8:26pm]

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