The 10th floor theater at the Time Warner Center was packed with hundreds of guests last night for a preview of CNN’s new Black in America series — so much so, two overflow rooms were needed.
Before the crowds watched a 30-minute preview of three upcoming specials, Time Warner chairman Dick Parsons addressed the audience. “I think they had an ulterior motive asking me here, but I can’t figure out what it is, other than that I’m black in America,” he joked.
“It’s time to start looking at things in a new prism,” he said about the documentaries.
Angela Burt-Murray, Essence editor-in-chief called the project the most “comprehensive” in media history and O’Brien called the 18-months of work, a “labor of love.”
“We needed to get our facts right but we needed to get our stories right too,” she said. “Two very different things.”
At a reception following the screening, CNN/U.S. president Jon Klein told TVNewser Black in America is getting high marks at its screenings and through an email campaign. “You can’t force people to do it. It was organic,” he said. “Viewers are responding to it. It’s been surprising and encouraging.”
A glance at the storylines, who was there, and more, after the jump…
The Soledad O’Brien-hosted specials previewed last night were from three different documentaries: a 90-minute CNN and Essence partnership titled, “Reclaiming the Dream” which premieres this Saturday at 8pmET. Then next week, two nights of two-hour documentaries: “The Black Woman & Family,” on Wednesday and “The Black Man,” on Thursday, both at 9pmET.
The documentaries follow a variety of stories. There is the first meeting and surprising genealogy of two cousins, one black and one white, who share the same great-great grandfather. There is the story of the Dysons: Michael Eric, the Princeton-educated author, professor and preacher, and his brother Everett, who is serving life in prison for murder. The theme of the night seemed to be about education and the imbalance that exists. One participant called it “the whole ballgame,” introducing a controversial plan to pay black students to go to class.
“At first four hours sounded like a lot,” said O’Brien. “But it could have been 20 hours long. I know we’re just starting the conversation.”
Klein says, like CNN Heroes (a critical success, but not so in the ratings), the content is what matters. “Ratings usually matter when that’s all you have to sell. We have a reputation, a bond with the audience,” he said. “Yes, we want people to watch, but what’s more important is the way you get the numbers. We wouldn’t trade ratings for approach.”
Attendees represented the true spectrum of media — from Cornel West to Gayle King, from Today show anchor Hoda Kotb to actress Tamara Tunie (we recognized her from “The Devil’s Advocate).
Some others: CBS News’ Michelle Miller, CNN’s Lola Ogunnaike, ABC’s Bianna Golodryga, Bishop TD Jakes, author/former CNN producer Jim Miller, president of Essence Communications Michele Ebanks, philanthropist Malaak Compton Rock (Chris’ wife) and actress Cicely Tyson.
We worked the room with Huffington Post’s Rachel Sklar, FishbowlNY’s Glynnis McNicol and FNC/MSNBC commentator Keli Goff. And Keli has requested a mention for Janet Hubert, AKA the first mom from “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” who was in attendance as well.
• Check out Rachel Sklar play-by-play from the night over at The Huffington Post.
(photos courtesy of FishbowlNY’s Glynnis McNicol)