TV One celebrates its 20th anniversary with ‘Urban One Honors’ special

City of Atlanta, Fulton County honor busy Atlanta network for contributions to the city.
Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens presents Alfred C. Liggins III, CEO of Urban One and chairman/founder and CEO of TV One, with the City of Atlanta's highest honor, the Phoenix Award. They are shown on the black carpet during the taping of "Urban One Honors: Best in Black" at the Coca-Cola Roxy on Jan. 20. Courtesy of Joshua Spruiel/Mayor's Office of Communications

Credit: Photo courtesy of Joshua Spruiel, Mayor's Office of Communications

Credit: Photo courtesy of Joshua Spruiel, Mayor's Office of Communications

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens presents Alfred C. Liggins III, CEO of Urban One and chairman/founder and CEO of TV One, with the City of Atlanta's highest honor, the Phoenix Award. They are shown on the black carpet during the taping of "Urban One Honors: Best in Black" at the Coca-Cola Roxy on Jan. 20. Courtesy of Joshua Spruiel/Mayor's Office of Communications

In the early 2000s, radio executive Alfred C. Liggins III was watching both a music video countdown on Black Entertainment Television and various New Year’s Eve celebrations when he started thinking about the fact that there was still only one channel that targeted and represented Black viewers.

So he made it his personal mission to launch TV One on Jan. 19, 2004 — Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The cable network is the second overall to exclusively air programming aimed at African American viewers.

“There was an opportunity to do something different,” said Liggins, TV One’s founder and CEO. “We’re on a journey to be in the Black people business. My instincts told me that there was a wide audience of our people out there that could really use a different perspective.”

Michelle L. Rice, president of TV One and CLEO TV, and Alfred C. Liggins III, CEO of Urban One and founder, chairman and CEO of TV One, share a laugh at a press conference as TV One announced the 2024 "Urban One Honors, Best In Black." The press conference, which also celebrated the network's 20th anniversary, was at the Waldorf Astoria Atlanta Buckhead on Jan. 19. 
(Bita Honarvar for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Bita Honarvar

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Credit: Bita Honarvar

TV One is commemorating its 20th anniversary with the sixth annual “Urban One Honors: Best in Black” special at 8 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 25. This year’s honorees are Mary J. Blige, Chloe Bailey, Frankie Beverly, Donald Lawrence and Dionne Warwick.

The ceremony was taped on Jan. 20 at Coca-Cola Roxy. “R&B Divas” cast members KeKe Wyatt, Chante Moore and Nicci Gilbert gave a reunion performance. The star-studded list of performers and presenters included Teyana Taylor, Bebe Winans, Damon Little, CeeLo Green, Angie Stone and October London.

TV One was the first television venture for its parent company, Urban One, that was founded as Radio One in Washington, D.C., by Liggins’ mother, Cathy Hughes, in 1980.

Eyeing a growing Black market, Radio One began building a relationship in 1995 with Atlanta, where most of TV One’s production now is done.

TV One’s programming slate features “Unsung,” an award-winning profile series about past Black musicians, and “Uncensored,” which allows celebrities to share backstories about their careers and personal struggles.

“For My Man,” “Fatal Attraction” and “ATL Homicide” depict true crime and relationship conflicts. The Black-owned company developed scripted and unscripted programs including “The Rickey Smiley Show,” “R&B Divas,” “Life After,” “Born Again Virgin,” “Celebrity Crime Files” and “Love That Girl.”

“We wanted to tell stories about our history and the backdrop of our music artists that depicted us in a different light beyond entertainment,” said Liggins, Urban One’s CEO. “It was an extension of us trying to reach the audience where they were.”

The sitcoms “Living Single,” “Good Times” and “Sanford and Son” continue to run in syndication on TV One, as well.

“I knew how big our community was, and we needed more than one option,” Liggins added. “In radio, we always look at different formats that target different demographics, so there was a significant need for something for the adults over 25.”

Cathy Hughes, founder and chairperson of Urban One, with Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens at the sixth annual "Urban One Honors: Best In Black" at Coca-Cola Roxy on Jan. 20.

Credit: Photo courtesy of Joshua Spruiel, Mayor's Office of Communications

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Credit: Photo courtesy of Joshua Spruiel, Mayor's Office of Communications

There were challenges along the way to launching TV One. Liggins and TV One president Michelle L. Rice were turned down numerous times when they were trying to set up distribution. The pair were finally able to convince Comcast to buy into Liggins’ vision.

“People would say we didn’t have the right strategy, we didn’t need a second [Black] network, or they didn’t see the value in us,” said Rice, TV One’s then-executive vice president of content distribution and marketing. “It was not an easy journey.”

Added Liggins: “Cable system operators didn’t really want to hear ‘BET,’ so convincing them that there needed to be a second option was difficult. When we would tell them that we wanted to create an adult Black network, they thought it was porn.”

On Jan. 21, 2019, coincidentally Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Rice created TV One’s spinoff network, CLEO TV. The network is named after the Egyptian Queen Cleopatra and airs shows about food, fashion, travel, hair and beauty that attracts Black and other millennial women of color.

This year is CLEO TV’s fifth anniversary.

Fulton County District 4 Commissioner Natalie Hall (right) presents a Proclamation to TV One and CLEO TV president Michelle L. Rice on behalf of the Fulton County Board of Commissioners, pronouncing Jan. 19 as Urban One Day.

Credit: Photo courtesy of Chris Mitchell/ ONE/35 Agency

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Credit: Photo courtesy of Chris Mitchell/ ONE/35 Agency

“Young women of color today are bosses and queens,” Rice said. “They know what they want, and they go after it. We’re not monolithic people, and Black women are not either. CLEO is a place to represent how we live our lives.”

“New Soul Kitchen,” one of CLEO TV’s first and top rated shows, went from 15-minute segments to a half-hour show. Hosted by Jernard Wells, the series had changing Black women chefs as his co-hosts. Wells, who now hosts alone, set out to make his downhome persona as the vehicle to help make preparing dishes more accessible to his viewers.

“I want each theme to resemble what it’s like cooking in an African American or any home,” Wells said. “The show should come off as the audience being comfortable going in their kitchen or the backyard to grill and create food or alter recipes the way they like it.”

As it pushes forward with both networks, TV One was recognized locally with proclamations for its 20th anniversary from Fulton County and the City of Atlanta on Jan. 19 along with the Phoenix Award, the city’s highest honor, the following day. Liggins, a Broadcast and Cable Hall of Famer, received the Visionary Vanguard Award during “Urban One Honors” for his efforts to establish the network.

“Getting the honor makes me just remember that it was an idea, a spark and a pivot,” Liggins said.

Like all successful networks, TV One has to constantly innovate and create programming. In the third quarter of 2024, it plans to premiere “Raising Fame,” which chronicles the parents raising celebrities and “Collab.” Hosted by hip-hop veteran Doug E. Fresh, the show will feature old school acts mentoring up-and-coming musicians. “Unsung” is also returning for season 17 on March 3.

“It’s an historic time, and I always knew TV One would be something special,” Rice said. “The mission was always to represent Black people and our lifestyles authentically and positively. That mindset is really steeped in our DNA.”

TV One’s leadership takes pride in its efforts toward inclusion. Black women make up 60 percent of the staff at both TV One and CLEO TV.

“We are a place where we elevate Black voices, particularly Black women,” said Rice, who started with TV One on the same day it was launched. “We have given a lot of opportunities both behind and in front of the camera. It’s a place that has broken talent and emerging voices that may not get recognized or have opportunities elsewhere.”

Looking forward, TV One’s challenge is continuing to create relevant content and to work on distributing that programming. It has added an app and is now available across digital streaming platforms.

“It further excites me to think about another 20 years in order to grow,” said Liggins, 59. “My goal has always been to actually build a company that will survive past my career. It’s a conundrum, but we’re putting much brain power towards it.”


TV PREVIEW

“Urban One Honors: Best in Black”

8 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 25, on TV One