Inside Magic Johnson’s perfunctory African-American TV network

The desire on the part of GMC staffers to build Aspire into a successful entity in its own right, or even to hire talented African-American executives from outside the company, has apparently been low.

The general manager of Aspire, former GMC general counsel Paul Butler, who is African-American, moved over to Aspire in June after a long tenure at GMC, despite having no experience running a television network on his own. The entire Aspire programming department consists of one individual who also moved over from GMC.

Though numerous pitch meetings were held last summer and fall, Aspire’s budgetary constraints prevented many of the prospective deals for new series from being made.

Aspire’s schedule currently consists largely of low-cost syndicated reruns: episodes of the 1960s series “I Spy”, “Julia”, and “The Bill Cosby Show” (not to be confused with the more popular “Cosby Show” of the 1980s), “Soul Train” from the 1970s, and the early 1970s sketch comedy program “The Flip Wilson Show.”

Aspire’s limited original programming, interspersed between the near-constant cycle of reruns, includes “The Root 100,” comprised of 24 interviews with honorees of the annual “Root 100” African-American achievers list; a collection of independent short films and documentaries hosted by actor Omari Hardwick and billed as an original series; and the “Groundbreaking” series blocks, in which hosts discuss classic African-American films, music, and culture in between video clips.

These original series haven’t done much to raise Aspire’s visibility or ratings, or to inspire confidence within the company of Aspire’s long-term potential. The network still has fewer than 3,300 Twitter followers.

“The only reason this had to happen at all was because of the unconstitutonal threat, the political pressure applied on these business interests” by the federal government during the Comcast-NBC merger, TechFreedom senior fellow Geoffrey Manne told TheDC. “Why were they forced to even make these hollow promises in the first place? That is problematic.”

“Aspire will be a network that encourages African-Americans to reach for their dreams,” Johnson said last year.

Aspire did not immediately return a request for comment.

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