T.J. Holmes and B.E.T.’s Latest Foray Into Topicality.

After posting poor ratings, B.E.T.  announced earlier this week that it was “expanding” T.J. Holmes‘ half-hour, late-night talk show, Don’t Sleep with T.J. Holmes, into a once-a-week, hour-long affair because of “viewer demand.” (Some quality snark from the Washington Post: “We’re not much at math, but as best we can figure, that’s an expansion from two hours a week, to one hour a week.”)

 I’d never seen it, so I’d asked a smart news/TV junkie friend who had just what she thought of it.

“It’s the worst show on TV,” she said matter-of-factly.

OK, then. Interest piqued.

Some quick Googling yielded a clip from Don’t Sleep in which Holmes was doing a spoken-word routine about a news item on a hanged effigy of Obama — a situation that caused me to wonder if my friend hadn’t dangerously understated the gravity of the situation.


The good news is that the episodes I peeped afterwards, while still decidedly ungood, never reached that same level of soul-crushing fremdscham. But the early episodes clearly didn’t know what they wanted to be. Debra Lee, BET’s C.E.O., said it was “designed to be a mix of entertainment and news and commentary” and that they “hoped it would have been a Jon StewartStephen Colbert-type show.” But  if that were the goal, why hire a competent, straight-laced anchorman like Holmes? He gamely tries to deliver the show’s monologue, but doesn’t have the chops to salvage the pretty anemic material he has to work with. That’s not his fault, really. It’s just not his bag. (A  friend who was a guest on the show confirmed to me that Sleep sweetens the audience’s response with a laugh track in post-production.)

Holmes is amiable and likable, but he isn’t the most agile interviewer, and he leaves important, obvious follow-up questions on the table in favor of  digressive concern-trolling. On their Election Night episode, he belabored an odd point about whether black people would blame an Obama loss on some grand conspiracy. Marc Lamont Hill, who was one of the guests, quickly pointed out to Holmes that, you know, voter suppression is an actual, real thing that is happening in the world right now. (Remember: Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.)

In another conversation with Montell Williams about legalizing medicinal marijuana, Holmes tried to play  Devil’s advocate by arguing that weed shouldn’t be legal because it’s classified as a drug, as if he was trying to kill any doubts from viewers that he’d not thought too hard about the topic. Williams  rejoinder was the obvious one: alcohol is a drug, and that’s legal. 

“Whoa, whoa,” Holmes chuckled awkwardly. “That’s a different show.”


Later he asked his panelists, pointedly: “What will our communities look like if we just smoked weed all day?”


The Williams exchange highlighted just how desperately Don’t Sleep  needs smart, capable dissenting voices. The show more or less openly roots for Obama, which isn’t that big a deal; B.E.T. knows its audience. But the pre-election episodes featured  a bunch of interchangeable be-permed and be-pearled Romney supporters who said everything you expected and nothing more. And having on Rev. Jesse Lee Petersona nutjob who thinks young black folks could learn better work ethic by toiling on plantations without pay — means that any try at a serious conversation will be derailed by crazypants. Otherwise it’s a yes-fest, which makes for boring television.

The first foray into the  hour-long format was much better: ironically, more focused with much less filler. The show also seemed to have turned down the volume on its penchant for preachiness and condescension.  Plenty of talk shows get their pedant on, of course. But there’s something a little frustrating about being lectured to by  T.J. Holmes and B.E.T. — B.E.T.! —like they’ve earned the right to be taken seriously.



Gene "G.D." Demby is the founder and editor of PostBourgie. In his day job, he blogs and reports on race and ethnicity for NPR's Code Switch team.
  • a latte-night talk show with a laugh track? montel williams and rev. peterson? a spoken-word??? maybe it’s all a push to legalize weed so we can smoke and maybe understand this whacky show.

    • Montel Williams was surprisingly good. (Or maybe no suprise; he’s a TV vet.) And he clearly was more ready to spar than Holmes was.

  • laura

    i just watched that video. WHY? WHYWHYWHYWHYWHY? why.
    on the other hand, TJ is so pretty. *rests chin in hands*
    on the other hand…WHY?

    • this is pretty much my thought process each week during Scandal.

  • T.

    “Dont Sleep with TJ Holmes”…duly noted, I wont. That video is, in the words of Sir Charles Barkley, turrible. I think my biggest issue is that instead of choosing a newer voice, they decided to go with someone ‘safe’ who had already done work with CNN. I agree that he doesnt have the comedic timing to make it Jon Stewart-y, so why even try? Why not come up with something completely new/different and be innovative, instead of trying to replicate something else (this goes against business principles, but still). I hope they figure out way to make it more palatable.

    • I went to a taping of Totally Biased with Kamau Bell a few weeks ago, and it really made me appreciate how hard it is to do what The Daily Show does. I don’t know if it was Chris Rock of George Carlin who said that if you’re a standup comedian, you never want your audience to applaud more than they laugh — otherwise it’s just a sermon. TDS definitely flatters its audience, but Totally Biased takes that to another, excruciating level. They weren’t even jokes. Just talking points. And everyone was applauding.

  • This has been said by others discussing Don’t Sleep but I’ll say it again: why would I watch BET’s version of The Daily Show when I already watch The Daily Show? Furthermore, DS is nothing LIKE TDS despite Lee’s delusions. Besides, I get my news and info from other sources. I wasn’t ever really looking for BET to provide me with the same.

    I’ve got to question the people behind the scenes of this show. What’s with all the hashtags popping up in the corner? Totally random. Stop trying so desperately to make one of them happen! That spoken word bit… who let that slide in 2012? I swear… Love Jones is like a stain on the white couch of Black America’s psyche, yo.

    Also, I feel like the lackluster showing for Don’t Sleep has BET and the “good” black folks (who keep their ratchet confined to the weekends or Grits and Biscuits parties) singing that same old negro spiritual, “This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things”. A popular (and tired) refrain is that black people don’t support so-called positive media and will tear anything down. In order to have nice things, we’ve got to support any song, movie, tv show, event, etc that basically shows black people can read. The problem with that is a lot of that stuff is WACK. Don’t Sleep has got to be good (informative, entertaining) for me to watch it and not just “positive”.

  • Monday’s Baby

    Derp! *looks at this weekend’s Grits and Biscuits ticket*

  • “[…] like they’ve earned the right to be taken seriously.”

    All. Of. That!

    BET doesn’t necessarily have to do something “new/different” to do something good. The thing is, I’m not convinced that having GOOD shows is their focus at all.

    MTV has The Real World? We’ll do College Hill. Need some new programming? Let’s revive a show that was cancelled on another network, then make it unrecognizable to the fans who followed it. We’re finally going to create original content? Let’s start by trying to recreate The Cosby Show, but not include any of the main elements that made the original great.

    It feels like BET is more interested in giving Black audiences SOMETHING (because something is better than nothing), as opposed to something good. I don’t think they take their target audience seriously. We’re just supposed to be grateful that we have a Black Entertainment Channel. If they did take their target audience seriously, they’d have focus groups for their shows. -There’s no way you can convince me they did a focus group for Don’t Sleep. No. Way. –

    AMC managed to completely change its programming (and now has three hit shows), but the powers-that-be at BET didn’t realize that TJ Holmes doesn’t have the personality to pull off a comedy show? He’s not funny enough to do what Jon Stewart does. He can’t act well enough to do what Stephen Colbert does. And, he’s not snarky enough to do what Bill Maher does. He’s a news anchor. If they really wanted him that badly, they should have just brought back BET News.

    The most offensive thing about BET is that it almost implies what we’re seeing is the best writing/acting/directing/etc. that Black America has to offer. Like, the programming sucks because this is the absolute best we can do. I’m so glad I know otherwise.

  • Oh! And, TJ Holmes ain’t THAT fine. He’s too square, for my taste.lol

  • #strangefruit?!

    This is *terrible*. I’d like to give him the benefit of the doubt and watch another clip, but I don’t think I can stomach that.

    • This clip is an outlier. The show never gets quite this bad. (Or at least not from what I’ve seen.)