ASPiRE, the new television network from Magic Johnson Enterprises, debuted late last month with original programming aimed at African-American viewers. The network launched with distribution partners Comcast and Time Warner Cable in some seven million homes and in 16 of the top 25 African-American markets including New York City, Atlanta, Chicago and Washington, DC.
ASPiRE also will launch on Internet-distributed TV network aggregator FAVE TV and with five charter brand partners: The Chrysler Group, L’Oreal USA, Nationwide Insurance, Coca-Cola and Walmart. ASPiRE celebrated its historic kickoff with a private, star-studded event at Cipriani Dolci in New York City.
Joining the network as hosts of its primetime programming blocks are award-winning actor Laurence Fishburne (Boyz ‘n the Hood, The Matrix, “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation”), who will host “Groundbreaking Movies”; actor and comedian Jonathan Slocumb (Meet the Browns, “The Steve Harvey Show”), host of “Groundbreaking Comedies”; Actor Omari Hardwick (Sparkle, I Will Follow), host of ASPiRE’s first original series, “ABFF Independent”; and Grammy Award-winning musician Esperanza Spalding, host of “Groundbreaking Music.”
The network’s initial schedule will feature the following programming blocks:
• Movies (Thursdays, 8 p.m.)
Renowned actor Laurence Fishburne will guide viewers through the background, cultural relevance and historical significance of each night’s selection. Currently scheduled films include Shaft, Rosewood, Bird, Sarafina!, Bustin’ Loose, The Defiant Ones and Lilies of the Field.
• Comedies (Tuesdays, 2 p.m., 8 p.m. & 11 p.m.)
Hosted by actor and comedian Jonathan Slocumb, ASPiRE’s Groundbreaking Comedies will celebrate trailblazing Black funny men and women with iconic TV series including “The Bill Cosby Show”, “The Flip Wilson Show” and more. Slocumb will share with audiences the known and not-so-known facts about the shows, their stars, and their enduring influence on popular culture. Groundbreaking and original stand-up comedy performances will also be featured.
• Music and Performance Specials (Fridays, 8 p.m.)
Hosted by Grammy Award-winning jazz bassist and singer Esperanza Spalding (Chamber Music Society, Radio Music Society), this unique night of programming will present musical performances by pioneering and influential artists from every generation and genre. ASPiRE will also present examples of African-American theater, dance and visual arts, offering viewers a chance to enjoy the wide spectrum of talent in the African-American creative community. Programming will include “Jazz Giants of the 20th Century,” “Make It Funky!” and “Earth, Wind & Fire in Concert” to name a few.
• “ABFF Independent” (Mondays, 8 p.m.)
This weekly two-hour original show, hosted by actor Omari Hardwick (Sparkle, I Will Follow), will present the best shorts and feature films from African-American writers, producers and directors, selected from the American Black Film Festival (ABFF).
• Documentaries (Wednesdays, 8 p.m.)
Fascinating films chronicling the real-life events, people and places that shaped the course of African-American history and culture. Scheduled documentaries include Academy Award winner When We Were Kings, Rising from the Rails: The Story of the Pullman Porter and Oscar’s Black Odyssey: From Hattie to Halle, among others.
• “I ASPiRE” Featurettes
These 30- and 60-second shorts feature creative talent including concert pianist Jade Simmons from Houston, painter Matthew Thomas from Memphis and surfer Marcos Chatman from Los Angeles.
“It has been a long-held dream of mine to launch a television network that offers viewers inspiring and positive portrayals of African-American lifestyles, accomplishments and talent, while also creating opportunities for the next generation of artists and storytellers,” said ASPiRE CEO Magic Johnson. “My vision for ASPiRE could only become a reality with a group of visionaries and bold charter brand partners, The Chrysler Group, L’Oreal USA, Nationwide Insurance, Coca-Cola and Walmart. I am thrilled to have GMC TV [Gospel Music Channel] as my partner along with our affiliate partners Comcast, Time Warner Cable and FAVE TV to help make this dream come true.”
GMC will provide operational support for ASPiRE, including affiliate and ad sales, marketing, programming, production and technical operations. Charles Humbard, GMC President and CEO, said: “We are delighted to be partnered with Earvin Johnson in the creation of this new network. Between his inspired leadership and our day-to-day operational experience in programming for, and marketing to, African-American audiences, our two brands are a perfect fit.”