By Lenore T. Adkins/Special to the AFRO
Debra Lee, chairman and chief executive officer of BET Networks, is leaving the company after spending 32 years there, Lee announced May 25. Her last day is May 28.
The Hollywood Reporter reported that Lee won’t be replaced and that her departure comes months after she shifted her day-to-day oversight of the company to Scott M. Mills, the network’s current president.
Once she leaves, Lee will remain involved in media and maintain her role on corporate and nonprofit boards. Her commitment to diversity and inclusion will continue in the form of advancing the rights of women and girls and people of color through her work through several organizations, including Times Up and The Recording Academy Diversity & Inclusion Task Force, according to a network statement.
In a statement to BET staff and executives, Lee, who initially joined BET in 1986 as vice president and general counsel, said she’d always be the network’s number-one fan.
“As a young corporate attorney I saw my role as the protector of the BET brand and its employees and today, more than 32 years later, I still see myself as the protector and defender of a brand that I have helped to grow as a top destination for audiences across the globe,” Lee said in the statement. “I have called BET Networks home for over three decades and this team is part of my extended family.”
Lee spent the last 30+ years building the network into a powerhouse reaching more than 125 million households that’s seen in more than 60 countries.
Most recently, BET aired the mini-series The New Edition Story in 2017, attracting 28.7 million viewers from its initial run through repeats. That made it the highest-rated TV biopic of all time.
Under her tenure, BET launched the 2014 hit series The Game, the most-watched sitcom premiere in cable television history, which drew 7.68 million viewers.
Lee’s leadership also oversaw the launch of the network’s website, BET.com, developed BET Her, the first network for African-American women and secured television rights to BLACK GIRLS ROCK! Leading Women Defined, an annual conference with notable African-American women get together for debates on issues impacting their communities and families, also came to fruition. Some of those women included former first lady Michelle Obama, tennis icon Venus Williams and actress Issa Rae.
Bob Bakish, president and chief executive officer of Viacom, BET’s parent company, said Lee’s vision and creativity has “cemented BET Networks as a premiere network for African Americans and lovers of Black culture.”
“Her passion for the BET brand has resulted in countless wins and has allowed BET to stay competitive in a growing media landscape,” Bakish said in a statement.