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A seat at the show business table

Entertainment | Media mogul Byron Allen takes on cable giants in court
by Loren Skinker
Posted 11/22/19, 04:56 pm

Since comedian Byron Allen performed on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson at age 18, many of his high-stakes business ventures have paid off. His talk show Kickin’ It With Byron Allen started in 1992 and went on to become one of the country’s longest-running TV series. In 1993, Allen founded Entertainment Studios, which became a launching pad for eight 24-hour TV channels, including Cars.TV, Pets.TV, and others. Last year, he bought The Weather Channel for $300 million. And in 2015, Allen bought Freestyle Releasing, an independent film distributor that handled the distribution of God’s Not Dead.

Now at age 58, Allen faces his highest stakes yet at the U.S. Supreme Court, which is considering his $20 billion racial discrimination lawsuit against Comcast, the largest U.S. cable provider. The suit accuses Comcast of refusing to carry Allen’s channels because he is African American. The high court heard oral arguments in the case on Nov. 13.

Allen sued Comcast in 2015, claiming the company violated an 1866 civil rights law that prohibits white-owned businesses from taking prejudicial actions toward non-whites in creating contracts. He also previously sued AT&T and DirecTV, which eventually settled with him by carrying his channels. Comcast claims it doesn’t carry Allen’s channels because of viewership and programing concerns, not race. The cable company attempted to stomp out accusations of racism by citing its partnership with RevoltTV, a black-owned channel.

Allen argues Comcast carried “lesser-known, white-owned” channels while still refusing to sign his more popular channels like Comedy.TV. He has proven his mettle as a media mogul, producing successful mid-budget movies such as 47 Meters Down, Hostiles, and Chappaquidick.

Comcast wants the court to dismiss the lawsuit because it says Allen cannot prove Comcast would have accepted his channels if not for his race. But Allen and his attorneys say that if they can show race played at least some role in the decision, they should be allowed to take the case to trial.

“If Comcast succeeds, racial discrimination lawsuits will be much more difficult to win because black plaintiffs will basically have to prove that 100 percent of the reason a white-owned company rejected a contract with a black-owned company was racism,” attorney Michael Coard wrote in an opinion piece for the Philadelphia Tribune.

At the Supreme Court, the justices seemed to agree that Allen shouldn’t have to prove racism primarily motivated Comcast’s decision just for the case to proceed. They struggled, though, with how much prejudice constituted enough to show racial discrimination. Afterward, Allen seemed satisfied with the hearing, telling Deadline it went “exactly the way I expected it to go.”

The justices are expected to issue a decision by June. In the meantime, Allen has a separate but similar suit pending against Charter Communications.

Associated Press/Photo by Alex Brandon Associated Press/Photo by Alex Brandon National Medal of Arts recipient Jon Voight (center) in the East Room of the White House on Thursday

Willing recipients

President Donald Trump on Thursday honored the first class of National Medal of Arts recipients of his presidency. Actor Jon Voight, singer Alison Krauss, Washington public television executive Sharon Percy Rockefeller, and the musicians of the U.S. military received the award.

Congress established the National Medal of Arts in 1984 as the highest U.S. government honor given to artists and art patrons. The National Council on the Arts receives nominations and recommends winners to the president. The White House gave out the medals annually until 2016, the year of the most recent presidential election.

Since he took office, Trump has had a rocky relationship with the arts community. In 2017, he stayed away from the Kennedy Center Honors in Washington because some of the honorees threatened to boycott if he attended. The president skipped the Kennedy Center event again last year and has not said if he will attend this year.

Thursday’s award ceremony at the White House went off without controversy. Voight, who has publicly supported Trump, accompanied the president to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware after the ceremony to pay tribute to the remains of two U.S. service members killed this week in Afghanistan.

“Each of today’s recipients has made outstanding contributions to American society, culture, and life,” Trump said at the award reception. “They exemplify the genius, talent, and creativity of our exceptional nation.”

The president also gave out four National Humanities Medals at Thursday’s ceremony to Teresa Lozano Long, a Texas philanthropist; Patrick O’Connell, the chef and proprietor of the restaurant The Inn at Little Washington in Virginia; mystery writer James Patterson; and the Claremont Institute, a conservative think tank based in California. —Lynde Langdon

Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Capitol Concerts Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Capitol Concerts Jeffrey Foskett (left) rehearsing with Bruce Johnston of the Beach Boys in May 2016 in Washingrton, D.C.

Praise Him in song

Musician Jeffrey Foskett, a longtime collaborator with the Beach Boys and other big-name music stars, talked with Billboard recently about his cancer diagnosis and the release of what could be his last album.

“God gave me such a beautiful voice, and I really did use it to honor him and to sing my best at every single performance,” Foskett said in a report published online on Thursday. He was diagnosed with anaplastic thyroid cancer in 2018. He lost one of his vocal cords during treatment, which hampered his singing voice. His latest album, Voices, started as a recording of a warmup session during which he sang covers of songs by the Beach Boys, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, and others.

In 2005, Foskett told WORLD music reviewer Arsenio Orteza about his acceptance of Jesus at age 14 at the prodding of a YMCA camp counselor. “I said, ‘What do I do?’ She said, ‘You get down on your knees and you ask Jesus to be your Lord and Savior.’ So I did. I said, ‘I don’t feel any different.’ She said, ‘You will.’ God has literally guided my life ever since.” —L.L.

Loren Skinker

Loren is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute.

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