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ED GORDON, host:

In observance of Black History Month, TV Land Network will air a three-part series starting tonight called That's What I'm Talking About. The roundtable discussions feature prominent African Americans focusing on black contributions and influence to American culture. Hollywood writer, director and NPR commentator John Ridley is a panelist, as is Greg Anthony, and ESPN's sports analyst and former NBA star. Anthony explained his reasons for doing the program.

Mr. GREG ANTHONY (ESPN Sports Analyst): First and foremost, it's extremely important when you're speaking of black history, black culture, and then they have the opportunity to be on a panel with so many people whom I have tremendous respect for, John Ridley being one and Rev. Al Sharpton, who I always don't agree necessarily with his politics, but I do have a tremendous respect for him. I just think it's important that we have a forum to talk about the things of importance, not just to African Americans, in all honesty, but to Americans because it's really about American culture.

GORDON: John, what's interesting about this is the cross-section of people that are brought to the table here. You're going to get all kinds of views and opinions. But I'm curious, the idea of participating in this during black history month speaks not only to the importance of it, but where we have and have not come in this country so far.

Mr. JOHN RIDLEY (Writer, Director and NPR Commentator): Absolutely. That a cable network that you wouldn't necessarily think of as being a forum for this kind of discussion was able to pull together such an interesting and diverse panel, I mean, that really says a lot. And it's interesting, you can chart the course of black Americans, particularly from the civil rights era, and how much we've done, and how much we've accomplished.

But there are these obstacles that are still in our way that we face as black people and just as people, and that's what's really interesting is to get these comments and to see where we diverge now and where we are going in different directions; but still how much we have in common and the things that are important to us as people of color.

(Soundbite of TV program, That's What I'm Talking About)

GORDON: Greg, being a former NBA player and now an NBA analyst, some will suggest that your colleagues have not been as vocal as they have in the past, and as prominent as they are, that they need to be more so socially. Did you have any reservation coming to the table and participating in something like this?

Mr. ANTHONY: No, I did not. I think there is a little bit of truth to that. Also, oftentimes a lot of the young men and women for that matter in professional sports, they tend to not want to have the extra added attention brought to themselves because it's something that they want to just do for their own personal well being and not necessarily just for PR. And I think sometimes we also lose sight of a lot of the mavericks that were before us. We touch upon the Muhammad Ali's, who really took a cultural stance and a political stance in a time when it was not popular.

And I think it's important that we not lose sight of that message and continue to show and make progress in areas where, for the most part, African Americans still, to a certain degree, are not given the same types of opportunities. And while there has been tremendous progress made, there's yet still tremendous progress to be made.

GORDON: Now, John, on the back end, you've been known for getting out there and getting in some verbal skirmishes from time to time. How much do you believe that we have to start moving beyond not just the television discussions of what you all talked about, but the discussions internally, whether it be at the cookout, or at the churches, and move to change things?

Mr. RIDLEY: I think that's incredibly important. I think it's paramount. It's odd that during probably the most contentious time for black people, the civil rights era, look at the changes that we've made in a fairly short amount of time. I mean, we were against an entrenched enemy, if you will, that had all the power in the world, that had all the might. We've created a great deal of change, I think positive change, not just for black Americans, for all Americans. Well, now we have all of these abilities and all this money and all this clout, and there's so many of us who are still in a state where they don't have opportunities, and I feel like we're still waiting for the government to help us out.

But you look at something like Katrina, and on every aspect -- people accuse George Bush of not stepping in. But there was a black mayor who was unprepared on this disaster. On the state level they were unprepared, and on the federal level. I think that we as people need to do more than just talk about these issues and talk about the things that we want as people of color and go out and make these changes, because we can, but it's up to us to go and do them.

GORDON: I also wonder, Greg, as you take a look at the title, That's What I'm Talking About,' and the idea that they found February to do this, one would have to question, could you do this show without putting the little catchy, black, hip title to it? Could you do this show in another month other than February? And if not, does that speak to how far we still have to go?

Mr. ANTHONY: Well, firstly, I think you could. And the title, to me, I found it a point of emphasis, because it's really about the expression of a culture, of a people, and you, in essence, want others to understand. While, yes, it is done during black history month, to me I find no better time because it's a period where there is the most awareness for black history and black culture.

GORDON: John?

Mr. RIDLEY: Well, the thing about the title, the only bad part is you almost can't have black idioms anymore because if this were a hit show, then everybody is going to be going around, that's what I'm talking about. The idea is to sort of focus it as being, hey, this is something that should appeal to people of color. But I think in terms of doing it in black history month, sure there's a little bit more encouragement for TV Land to put it on as a public service kind of thing, but I think if this were successful in black history month, I believe people who take this kind of a chance are going to continue taking this kind of a chance, and I'm just happy for that, regardless of the time of year or the title.

GORDON: Yeah. One can only hope that that will be the case. We absolutely, positively need more avenues for this kind of programming on network and cable television. 'That's What I'm Talking About' starts today. Gentlemen, thanks.

Mr. RIDLEY: Thank you.

Mr. ANTHONY: Thank you, Ed.

GORDON: That was ESPN analyst Greg Anthony and writer, director and NPR commentator John Ridley. Both are panelists in an upcoming episode of TV Land's series, That's What I'm Talking About. The series premieres tonight. You can see a video clip from the series on our website at npr.org.

(Soundbite of music)

GORDON: That's our program for today. Thanks for joining us. To listen to the show, visit npr.org. And if you'd like to comment, call us at 202-408-3330. NEWS AND NOTES was created by NPR News and the African American Public Radio Consortium.

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