BET Awards to Overhaul Show, Tribute to MJ

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The BET Awards are undergoing “a total overhaul” as the show is retooled as a tribute to Michael Jackson, the network said Friday. The telecast is being lengthened, performers are being added to the lineup and additional guests are expected to attend, said Debra L. Lee, Chairman and Chief Executive of Black Entertainment Television.

“We’re adding on,” Lee said from the Shrine Auditorium, where the awards will be presented Sunday. “We’re trying to do the numbers we had already planned and we’re trying to add on, so it may be a longer show than we anticipated.”

At least 30 minutes will be added to the broadcast, she said. Jamie Foxx is set to host the show.

Jackson died Thursday afternoon at UCLA Medical Center after being stricken at his Los Angeles home.

Meanwhile, artists such as Beyonce and Ne-Yo, who worked on their performances for weeks, scrambled to change them last-minute to honor the King of Pop, said producer Stephen Hill.

“To change it up in three days is something that’s not easy but they’re all willing and looking forward to it,” Hill said. “There’s a direct line from Ne-Yo to Michael Jackson. There’s a direct line from Beyonce to Michael Jackson. There’s a direct line from Jay-Z to Michael Jackson. I think they’ll want to pay tribute in their own way.”

Other artists who had not planned to attend Sunday’s show, such as Usher and Justin Timberlake, are rushing to Los Angeles to participate, Hill said.

“This is going to be the first gathering of people who really cared for and were influenced by him since his death,” he said. “It’s a tall order for us but we have every intention of paying respect to Michael Jackson.”

Lee said she expects the evening’s acceptance speeches to be dedicated to Jackson’s memory and his influence on music and popular culture.

“There’s no artist that’s going to want to get up there and talk about themselves. They’re going to want to talk about Michael,” she said. “We want to give out the awards, we want them to have their moment but it’s going to be more geared toward Michael Jackson.”

Lee said Jackson was a longtime friend of the network, which is airing special programming in his honor all weekend. Jackson will also be remembered at Lee’s annual pre-party in honor of the awards, where Foxx, Sean Combs and Vanessa Williams are among expected guests.

Hill, who wore a yellow Jackson 5 T-shirt Friday, said seeing the band perform in 1971 inspired him to go into the entertainment business. He still keeps a poster of the group in his office, he said.

“Michael Jackson was my first real hero,” Hill said. “I don’t think that this first public outpouring could be left in better hands.”

“There will be another awards show, so if this one changes, that’s fine,” he said. “There will not be another Michael Jackson.”

Associated Press Writer Mesfin Fekadu in New York contributed to this report.

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