Magazine article Black Enterprise

Producing Success: For 40 Years, Central City Productions Has Broken Barriers in Syndicated Television

Magazine article Black Enterprise

Producing Success: For 40 Years, Central City Productions Has Broken Barriers in Syndicated Television

Article excerpt

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IN THE LATE 1960s, A COLLEAGUE APPROACHED Don Jackson who was then an advertising sales manager for WVON, Chicago's No. 1 black-oriented radio station, inviting him to work on the development of a new television show. The concept was an African American dance show and the creator was an aspiring disc jockey named Don Cornelius. After evaluating the concept, Jackson said: "Man, there is no way in hell a show called Soul Train will ever make it. Thank you, but no thank you."

Of course, when Jackson called Cornelius, now a household name, more than a decade later to pitch his own idea, he had to eat his words. But the intrepid entrepreneur didn't hesitate to contact his old friend because he knew his company, Central City Productions, could boost Soul Train's flagging advertising revenues. "Cornelius was underpriced and losing coverage, losing time periods, and represented by people who didn't have his best interest at stake," reflects Jackson.

Jackson had already produced a successful slate of television programs and events that targeted African Americans and gained wide distribution for his vehicles through a partnership with media behemoth Tribune Co. Using that arrangement, he shared with Cornelius a blueprint for putting Soul Train on prime-time slots in top markets such as Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Houston, Miami, and Detroit. It was an offer Cornelius couldn't refuse as well as testament to Jackson's persistence. Jackson went on to distribute, syndicate, and sell advertising for the weekly program, generating more than $20 million in advertising over 23 years, and CCP earned more than $5 million in commissions. Jackson and Cornelius then launched the Soul Train Music Awards in 1987, which lasted 20 years under their management.

This is just one example of the business prowess of Jackson, 67, who has been responsible for operating one of the industry's most prolific black-owned production companies and producing high-quality fare for African American audiences shown in syndication and on cable television networks. Now, CCP is celebrating its 40th anniversary and his $15 million enterprise is still going strong.

As a television viewer, you have undoubtedly seen one of Jackson's productions throughout the years: CCP owns five programs--Know Your Heritage, which has provided close to $1 million in scholarships directly to high school student contestants on the game show; Black College Quiz; Hispanic College Quiz; Bud Billiken Parade and Picnic, one of the largest parades in the U.S.; and the Stellar Awards, a gospel music showcase--and co-owns two other productions, including Our World with Black Enterprise and the Black Enterprise Business Report, formerly America's Black Forum and Minority Business Report, respectively (CCP has been a media partner with BLACK ENTERPRISE in the development of these programs for more than five years).

"One of the things I appreciate most is that we do positive programming. Oftentimes, when we watch TV, we see so many negative images of people of color, and African Americans in particular," says Jennifer Jackson, general manager, executive in charge of productions, and Jackson's niece. "It makes us feel good at the end of the day to show the world as we see it, which is people who are successful and doing really good things."

Jackson maintains that in the past 10 years the roster of programs CCP produces and owns have experienced some of the highest ratings in more than three decades. Our World, for example, reaches 98% of black households in 145 markets and an average 2.7 rating (which represents 378,000 black households per week). "Dan's long-term vision and experience in the broadcast business made him a compelling partner for our entry into the television industry," says Earl G. Graves Jr., president and CEO of BLACK ENTERPRISE, which co-produces Our World and BEBR with Jackson. His knowledge of TV distribution and his ability to identify talent has made him and CCP extremely valuable assets. …

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