Founder to step down by January 2006.

Debra L. Lee has been named BET's CEO, effective immediately, by founder/CEO Robert L. Johnson. Lee is currently president/COO. Johnson takes the title of chairman, with plans to retire from the company he founded in 1980 by January 2006. Lee will assume the title of chairman/CEO following Johnson's retirement next year.

"I could not have chosen a better chief executive and outstanding leader to succeed me at BET than Debra Lee, and that's what makes this announcement so important to me and positive for BET's future," said Johnson. "Few executives in this industry have exhibited the ability to manage a unique growth company and shown the commitment to building a successful brand the way Debra has in her 19 years at BET. She mastered the cable programming industry long ago, and has a strong executive team in place to support her as she leads BET within the Viacom family."

Lee, 50, first joined BET as VP/general counsel in 1986 after serving over five years as an attorney with Washington, DC-based law firm of Steptoe & Johnson. Lee's tenure has included roles as the company's executive VP and general counsel of the legal affairs department; corporate secretary; and president and publisher of BET's publishing division.

Lee earned her Jurist Doctorate at Harvard University Law School, while simultaneously earning a Masters Degree in Public Policy from Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government in 1980. She graduated from Brown University in 1976 with a Bachelors Degree in Political Science with an emphasis in Asian Politics.