renowned football team and marching band from Grambling State University in Louisiana; and two "hip-hopumentaries" of Billboard chart-toppers: Keyshia Cole: The Way It Is and DMX: Soul of a Man. She has also helped open doors for aspiring creative types by outsourcing the Hollywood community for programming ideas and welcoming new talent through pitch sessions at the American Black Film Festival in Miami. Prior to her new home at BET, Lattaker-Johnson was the director of development for alternative programming at Sci-Fi Channel.
We talked with Lattaker-Johnson about the essence of success and what she does in her position to promote the BET brand.
Success can be measured by many different barometers. Personally, I consider success to encompass the balance between being a loving wife and mother at home, while also being a valued and contributing member in my work environment. Success should be a very personal acknowledgement—and I feel incredibly successful! I have a proven track record of shepherding several successful TV shows, I enjoy the people I work with tremendously, and I have the bonus of being able to offer my time back to the younger crop of television junkies who want a career in this business. I'm truly blessed to have a phenomenal leader (Reginald Hudlin, BET's president of entertainment) orchestrating BET's recent success and a talented team that makes me look good. We have a great time developing television show concepts, and I feel like I continue to learn more about the entertainment business daily. At the end of the day, I feel like I'm respected by my team—and the producers and executives that I deal with outside of my company—and I'm always learning. If success is measured by any of those things, I'm on top!
Over the past few years I've been earning my stripes, learning as many facets of the television business as I can, and networking with many talented individuals. I continue to hone my skill set and build my contacts on a daily basis, thus increasing my overall market value. That said, I have many options when it comes to the business of developing and producing television series, whether it be at a network or within a production company. My joy comes in providing a platform for under-represented voices to educate and entertain others, so working within the system of a television network that allows me the ability to green-light and materialize projects specifically targeted to urban youth culture is the perfect setting.
I'm building an infrastructure within this development team that is ripe with talented folks both creatively and in the aspects of physical production. My personal style is to hire the best supportive team and trust them to get the job done. I encourage my team members to bring in their own ideas, voice their opinions loudly, and to establish their own brand that sets them apart internally. We're a very busy department, so the key for me is being responsive and attentive to the needs of my team.
During my four years at Sci-Fi Channel, I developed and oversaw production of several new series, including Scare Tactics, a hidden-camera show where friends and family set people up for the scare of a lifetime; Mad Mad House, Sci-fi's first reality show where ten everyday folks competed for US$ 100,000 in a house inhabited by a witch, a modern primitive, a vampire, a voodoo priestess, and a naturalist; and Ghost Hunters, the popular series—about to begin its third season—that showcases a team of real-life ghostbusters that travels to haunted locations.
[Compared with BET,] Sci-fi is a completely different and genre-specific brand. My focus then was to find quality alternative programming that not only appealed to the core demographic that loved the sci-fi and fantasy genres, but also broadened slightly to appeal to average viewers (hence shows like Scare Tactics and the like). Programming at BET is fun because while we, too, have an established and signature brand, its audience is all about today's pop culture. Our programming is designed to appeal to consumers of black culture and represent programming that has a unique voice—a voice that reflects a strong cultural point of view, is authentic, and relatable for the core audience. My charge is to identify and create high-quality, signature programming…shows that are franchise-able and build upon the hip and amazing brand that only BET owns.
After receiving my MFA in film from the Art Center College of Design, I spent the first few years of my career learning the rigors of physical production on various movie, music video, and commercial sets. As a creative executive, that production background has served me incredibly well, so I really wouldn't change the knowledge and experience I gained by spending that time on set (even though I'm slightly older than many of my counterparts).
What would I change? I would've been less shy and networked more in my early days.