10 Questions for T.J. Holmes
The 'Don't Sleep' host talks his show, his baby on the way, and Obama.
Journalist T.J. Holmes is ending 2012 with a bang. After five years as an anchor and correspondent on CNN, Holmes took a self-described "leap of faith" and inked a deal with BET for his own talk show. The daily, late night series "Don't Sleep!" debuted last month, but to bittersweet critique—audiences weren't satisfied with its half-hour format. In response to his fans' demands, the network has since changed the series to air once a week for a full 60 minutes, allowing Holmes to "expand and focus" in a way that could truly benefit his audience. All this, and the host is expecting a baby, too! Holmes recently made time to talk to Loop21 about his new roles as a talk show host and father, the positives and pressures both can bring, and what he does to, deservedly, relax.
Loop 21: What can you achieve with the new format of "Don't Sleep" that you weren't able to before?
T.J. Holmes: It'll allow us to delve into topics deeper. The No. 1 comment we got from everyone—it was overwhelming and consistent—was the show was too short. We felt rushed. I was trying to get through a conversation and, you could tell on the TV, it felt awkward. Things got cut off and it didn't give you time to breathe. It'll also allow us to travel. We were hunkered down. It is a grind doing a daily show; you can't go anywhere because you don't have time for it. Now, we can literally go to other cities and communities and talk to people who are actually being affected by the issues we're covering.
Loop 21: Do you feel pressure to cover all-Black news?
T.J.H.: No doubt there's pressure and you're damn right it's a responsibility, but I wouldn't call it a burden. I'm blessed. If we don't get this right, it might be a long time before we ever have a show like this again on TV, but I never took on the role that I was going to speak for this network. No matter what, BET has tens of millions of homes that they reach in this country, so it just makes sense for a show like this to be on their network. It doesn't have to be news about Black people, but it has to be a story that's relevant to Black people. Taking on the prison-industrial complex on night one of the show—that's something you hear about here and there but we want to tell them a story in a way that they haven't heard before like, 'You know what? Actually, there are more Black men in college than there are in prison, don't believe that urban myth.'
Loop 21: On Twitter, you asked your followers: "What's the first thing you want President Obama to do" now that he's been re-elected. What do you hope he does more of?
T.J.H.: More of? At all! I would love for the president to speak on what's happening to our young men in this country. Black boys are graduating from high school at a 50 percent rate; that is a national crisis that no one is speaking on. We're losing half of them, and they're destined to what? A life of poverty, of crime, or in prison? Their lives are settled by the time they're 18 years old and that's just a damn shame. I don't understand why we're not marching on the White House over this issue. Something as simple as the president making a comment on it at the end of a press conference would elevate it. He wouldn't necessarily have to come up with a major initiative, just to put it out there would be huge.
Loop 21: Why did you decide to tweet about your 'driving while Black' incident earlier this year?
T.J.H.: You never know what could happen at the side of a road [laughs]. I was like, 'I don't know how this is gonna go down, so I better take some notes, snap a picture as well.' I literally had tens of thousands of witnesses to what was going on, so that's what I was thinking about. That was just me being a reporter.
Loop 21: What's the biggest mistake you've made on air?
T.J.H.: We accidentally 'killed' a guy at CNN. It wasn't my fault! I remember the writer who put it in. We had some information coming in about this breaking news story and they read the quick feed and threw in that the guy had died, and as soon as we got to commercial break they were like, 'Oh yeah, that guy's not dead.' So when we came back, I had to be like, 'By the way...' [laughs]. I do miss being live though.
Loop 21: Who have been your most and least favorite interviews?
T.J.H.: Herman Cain is always fun. He's a character, a big personality. He knows his stuff when it comes to business, so he can challenge you, but you know he's gonna say something outlandish that's just gonna drive you crazy and you're gonna have to call bull***t on him. I love interviews with people who have personality, but also have some meat to them. We've gotten conditioned to thinking that two people yelling at each other makes a good TV show, but boring can be engaging. You can talk to Maya Angelou for three hours; she's never gonna get animated but I bet you're gonna be on the edge of your seat listening to every word. You don't have to talk loud to be heard and usually the folks who are talking loud have the least to say.
Loop 21: Whose career do you most admire?
T.J.H.: My brother-in-law has the best job on the planet. He gets to give away other people's money. He works at the Kresge Foundation in the education unit and they get over $20 million a year to give away to universities and educational institutions that apply for grants. They go through the process of okaying those grants and then give people checks to do whatever they want to improve education in this country. We all want to be philanthropists in some form, but most of us don't have cash in that way, so it's just beautiful work.
Loop 21: How will being a father affect your career?
T.J.H.: Time-wise, I definitely want to be home more. I want to be around as much as I possibly can. I know I'll be traveling, but I think it'll have an impact on even the jobs I take down the road. It's been tough because I still live in Atlanta, and the show is in New York so I'm traveling every weekend. That's a real strain. I certainly want to tell our child that this time was challenging, but it was fun and we were doing it all to set up a good life.
Loop 21: So, what's been the best and worst part of having your own show?
T.J.H.: There's no question that the best part is having an opportunity to have my own voice and to give people in my community—the Black community—a voice too because we don't have enough outlets for something like this, to be a part of a national conversation. But it's been a challenge because people don't know to turn to BET at 11 o'clock at night for this type of substance. They aren't trained to do that. And to come from CNN, the most prestigious news organization on the planet, to an entertainment network can be a bit of a shock. It's not something I'm used to. I'm like, 'What do you mean we can't just call up that video?' It's frustrating at times, but an adjustment.
Loop 21: What do you watch and listen to in your spare time?
T.J.H.: I essentially watch three things: news, sports, and animated shows. So I'm watching 'American Dad' and 'Family Guy.' I watch 'Around the Horn' and 'PTI' with my guy [Michael] Wilbon—they have a fantastic format, you have two guys up there disagreeing but still being respectful of each other and that's the kind of debate we should have more of on television. I also watch '60 Minutes,' it's just so well done. 'The Walking Dead' comes on at the perfect time because on Sunday nights I'm always home. Music-wise—and it's not even in heavy rotation, it's almost exclusively—Kendrick Lamar. That boy is ridiculous. I actually got to spend some time with him at SXSW earlier this year and I wasn't really familiar with him. When we met, he was carrying a box of Fruity Pebbles and I was like, 'What in the world?' He was this unassuming, quiet kid. Then I went to his showcase that night and he was a beast on the microphone. I was like, 'This ain't the same dude from earlier.' That's all I'm listening to when I get up in the morning. I blast it and my neighbors complain.
"Don't Sleep! Hosted by T.J. Holmes" airs Wednesdays at 11 p.m. on BET.
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