Updated March 31, 2017

Yesterday news was released that BET Head of Original Programming Zola Mashariki was departing BET; however, the information is now being challenged by Mashariki, who has shared the fact that she is currently on medical leave due to surgery after being diagnosed with breast cancer, and her job is protected.

Marshariki shared in a memo, “I am on medical leave. My job is protected by the Family Medical Leave Act and related statutes (FMLA) and I have a contract in place. Viacom/BET are aware that I am scheduled to return on April 11 and that my medical leave may need to be extended depending on the progress of my recovery.”

Yesterday, chariman and CEO Debra Lee stated that Mashariki was departing from her role as EVP, and Head of Original Programming and would be replaced by Connie Orlando, SVP Specials, Music Programming, and News, who would serve as the interim head of programming.

Mashariki responded to BET in the below memo:

Hi team,

As many of you know, I was diagnosed with breast cancer in December and have been out of the office and on medical leave since my first surgery on February 6. I just had another surgery last week and it is a painful recovery for me. It has also been hard on my children.

Thank you all for your kind words and support while I have been out. I miss you too!

I heard yesterday that Stephen was leaving BET. I’m concerned that there was a reference to me, as Stephen’s departure is a separate issue from my status at the company.

Here are the facts: I am on medical leave. My job is protected by the Family Medical Leave Act and related statutes (FMLA) and I have a contract in place. Viacom/BET are aware that I am scheduled to return on April 11 and that my medical leave may need to be extended depending on the progress of my recovery.

Bob Bakish has said our company values should be honesty, empathy and bravery. I agree with this wholeheartedly and our team has embodied this over the 2 years we have worked together. Without question, including me in Stephen’s departure announcement in not in keeping with those values.

I am continuing to focus on improving my health. I have faith in the Viacom/BET leadership and know they will fix this. I have a long history in Hollywood and am grateful for the outpouring of support I have received across the entire industry during this difficult time.

Our Original Programming team has accomplished a lot in a short time and the filmmakers and community are excited to work with us again. There is so much more to do.

All my best, Zola

March 30, 2017

Per BET Networks, EVP Head of Original Programming Zola Mashariki will be stepping down from her post at BET, along with President of Programming Stephen Hill.  Connie Orlando, SVP Specials, Music Programming, and News, will serve as the interim Head of Programming.

Marshariki is a veteran programming executive who served as an executive at Fox Searchlight for 15 years prior to joining BET.  Prior to her position at Fox Searchlight, Mashariki was an attorney at Proskauer Rose LLP. She is a graduate of Dartmouth College and Harvard Law School, and the creator of the Black Film Initiative where she developed new business models for films targeting the African-American audience that including The Secret Life of Bees and Notorious.

The shakeup at BET comes on the heels of executive shifts at Viacom’s MTV, VH1 and Comedy Central implemented by the new corporate regime at Viacom after Bob Bakish was named president-CEO in December.

In a memo to BET staffers, chairman and CEO Debra Lee, broke the news about Mashariki’s departure to the staff at the Viacom-owned network.

Here is Lee’s full memo below:

Dear BET Team,

I am happy to announce that Connie Orlando, Senior Vice President for Specials, Music Programming, and News, will serve as the interim Head of Programming for BET Networks. She will lead the team on next steps around Upfront, current programming and development.

Over the past decade Connie has worked in a variety of roles in the programming department and is a seasoned, talented and well respected industry veteran. We’re thrilled that she will step into this role during this period of transition.

Additionally, Zola Mashariki, EVP, and Head of Original Programming, will also be departing the network.

Connie will meet with the programming team in the next few days to discuss the transition and next steps. Thank you all so much for your dedication to BET, your creativity and work, which is so important.

Onward,
Debi

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Tonja Renée Stidhum is a screenwriter/director with cheeks you want to pinch… but don’t (unless she wants you to). She is made of sugar and spice and everything rice… with the uncanny ability to make a Disney/Pixar reference in the same sentence as a double entendre.

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