DEBRA LEE, 62
Chairman/CEO, BET Networks
STEPHEN HILL, 55
President of programming, BET Networks
Last Year’s Rank: 84
Thanks to Debra Lee and Stephen Hill, BET Networks had a monumental 2016. The Viacom-owned flagship hosted Love & Happiness: An Obama Celebration, a White House concert with Janelle Monáe, The Roots and Jill Scott that reeled in 4.2 million viewers. For the first time in the event’s 16-year history, the BET Awards aired on 12 networks — including MTV, VH1 and Comedy Central — and became 2016’s No. 1 cable awards show among adults 18-49. On Feb. 11, at the 2017 Grammy Salute to Industry Icons gala co-hosted by Clive Davis, The Recording Academy will present Lee with the President’s Merit Award. “It’s such an honor,” says Lee, the first female executive to receive the distinction.
What were you proudest to work on in 2016?
Hill: Love and Happiness. Watching [Barack and Michelle Obama] sing the words to [Bell Biv Devoe’s] “Poison” was just one of those things: It doesn’t get better than this! Then Dave Chappelle referenced it on Saturday Night Live.
How did that come together?
Lee: [Michelle Obama] and I were at a brunch about three years ago over at [senior Obama adviser] Valerie Jarrett’s house. During brunch, she looked at me and said, “We’d like to really do something at the White House with BET.” Getting to pay tribute to them within a BET event — I still get chills talking about it — was a spectacular honor of my career.
What was the highlight of the 2016 BET Awards?
Hill: Having Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar open [with Lemonade’s “Freedom”] amid tons of water. That was a moment for the times.