Jacque Edmonds Cofer

*Everything must grow, or else it might as well be dying.  For years BET had been accused of little to no growth and, from a creative perspective, was dying.

However, with its recent ventures into original programming BET networks has been injected with new life via new viewers.  The network continues that short yet successful tradition with “Let’s Stay Together” starring Nadine Ellis, Erica Hubbard, Joyful Drake, Bert Belasco and RonReaco Lee.

Skeptics had dubbed it a recipe for failure perhaps, in part, because the BET name and programming quality had been in conflict for decades. But, to paraphrase Jay-Z, men lie, women lie, but numbers don’t!

“Let’s Stay Together,” the network’s first original scripted comedy, debuted as the #2 Series in BET history and was among the top 5 ad-supported sitcom premieres in cable TV history ever … debuting to 4.4 million viewers among 2.7 million households with a 3.0 coverage rating. Wow, talk about knocking the first pitch out of the ballpark!

Lee Bailey had the chance to chat with the show’s creator Jacque Edmonds Cofer. She and Dana Owens (Queen Latifah) are also the show’s executive producers. Here she talks about some of the show’s early feedback.  As is often the case, there was some good and some bad.

Jacque Edmonds Cofer and Queen Latifah

“We get both responses, it’s kind of edgy, it’s kind of traditional,” Cofer said of the show’s early feedback. She also describes what inspired her. “Basically it comes from my relationship with my husband. We’ve been married for about seven years. It’s  basically a romantic comedy looking for love on all different levels. Two sisters, Stacy and Tasha. Stacy is married to Charles and the third woman is Charles’ sister, Keita. I wanted characters that are friends in a very organic way. Sometimes, as you grow up, your closest friends are your extended family members.”

Ms. Cofer has succeeded in doing something very few have done, create a sitcom. It has to be hard or else everybody would have one. And what is the most challenging thing about creating your own show?

“The challenge from a story tellers point of view is coming up with episodes that are interesting and fun for the viewership,” she explained.  “We don’t want to get to heavy with it because we don’t want to turn into a soap opera, we want to keep it more fun.”

Charles leans in for his first kiss with his beautiful bride, Stacy. To see how their dream wedding unfolds, tune in to the season finale of 'Let’s Stay Together' Tuesday, April 5, 2011 at 10:30p.m. on BET

Cofer tells EURweb that she believes the show has been successful because it is directed at the black 18-34 demographic.

“I think we’re in that area, similar with ‘The Game’ where there’s not a lot of programming directed towards that age range for African Americans right now,” said Cofer. “Obviously, you can watch some reality show like ‘Real Housewives’ that skirts around that demographic, but nothing on those shows particularly deals with the lifestyles of African Americans in that 18 to 34 age group. ‘The Game’ is dealing with a lot of celebrity culture, we’re dealing more with relationships specifically. There was nothing out there and I think the audiences were waiting silently, vocally on Facebook and other places, for something that spoke directly to them.”

“It’s skewing both, probably slightly more female,” she continued when asked which gender the show is attracting.  “But I’m really happy to see that guys are responding to. They have a lot of good responses.  There are some pretty women they can look at.”

Not only did Jacque Edmonds Cofer create the show, but she penned 5 of the overall 13 episodes herself as well. Cofer and BET seemed to be following the Tyler Perry school of thought on sitcom production.  That is to say they were trying to get it all done as quickly as humanly possible.

“I think I wrote about 5, we had 4 other writers that came in as well,” Jacque told EURweb.  “We did 13 episodes we shot in Atlanta over the summer time. BET has some studio space down there and also a great relationship with the state of Georgia. I don’t know if you want to call it a state fund, but they’re very supportive of films and TV shows being shot down there and BET had that pre-existing relationship.  We were able to use Monique’s stage while she was on hiatus from her show.  So, everything just worked perfectly.  ‘The Game’ was shot afterwards. I think Screen Gems is opening up a studio down there and they were the first TV show on that stage.”

Cast of 'Let's Stay Together'

Big up to the state of Georgia or, shall we say Black Hollywood?  Looks like Tyler Perry helped to break that peach wide open and others are following suit. Cofer tells us that she preferred everything be done all at once, but there are positives and negatives involved.

“I think so because I think it keeps the storytelling tight,” she explained. “It keeps the energy up, you’re not changing a lot of things. It may be a bit of a disadvantage if we’re trying to use some of the hottest music. We might be six months out of date. I like the environment where we all lived at the same hotel, worked at the same studio, we ate dinner together. It was a very cohesive feeling among the cast and crew.”

To some the choice of “Let’s Stay Together” as the show’s title and theme song are obvious, but not so much to others.

“Because I think, as I talk to some of my younger friends, they have a very jaded view of marriage,” she explained.  “They think it’s more for financial stability than for love and commitment.  So I wanted to make the point that it’s sometimes easy to walk away when things get difficult but there’s also an advantage in staying together and working together to build a family and a community.  That’s why I like the title and it’s such a great song.”

Indeed, it is certainly iPod worthy in any decade. If you haven’t watched “Let’s Stay Together” now would be a perfect opportunity to check it out. Tune in on Tuesday, April 5th to witness the season finale at 10:30 Eastern.