Thirty years ago, as Byron Allen sat at his dining room table working on the brainchild startup Allen Media Group (AMG), he had already been part of the entertainment space for years, writing and performing as a comedian and host.
As AMG grew into a major company, purchasing and establishing networks, producing shows and connecting with people via theGrio website, Allen has been able to take his ideas for events and specials and make them a reality, bringing audiences a wealth of additional content in a variety of formats.
It seems there’s no better way to honor industry friends and amplify Black talent than to establish an awards show. “Byron Allen Presents TheGrio Awards” provided that opportunity. “You cannot be what you cannot see,” Allen says of the show and his goal of making sure young audiences have examples of Black achievement in front of them.
The magnitude of the recognition is apparent to those watching, as well as those on stage. This year’s honorees included Eddie Murphy, Kevin Hart and Mariah Carey. Geraldine Moriba, senior vice president and chief content officer of theGrio, says they honor “the most accomplished and successful African Americans in
“What’s most clear about the speeches, when you listen to what every person says,” notes Moriba, “is this award, for them, is different than any other award they’ve received because it’s for us, by us. It’s recognition by your own community, and that makes it ultra-special.”
For top performers, that recognition may come frequently and convincing honorees to attend yet another event isn’t always easy. That’s not the case for this show, though, since the Allen Media Group has a not-so-secret weapon.
Dick Roberts, executive vice president of brand marketing and corporate synergies, says he’s been in the room as Allen books people — by picking up the phone and calling them. “He’s got a direct line to all this amazing talent,” Roberts says of watching Allen perform his magic.
As for why the website is the basis for the special event, Moriba recognizes the power and consequence of journalism. She calls it a “natural progression” from one to the other, especially since storytelling is a forceful medium.
In addition to the awards show, Moriba oversees multiple major televised and digital events each year.
In February 2023, the “Byron Allen Presents the Comedy and Music Superfest” kicked off on both theGrio’s cable channel and streaming platform. As the name suggests, the program showcases a slew of entertainment with recognizable artists across multiple generations. Among this year’s performers were Toni Braxton, Gladys Knight, John Legend and Kenan Thompson. Between the music and the laughter, audiences were entertained by the best in the business.
In April, theGrio’s cable special “A Seat at the Table” showcased the red carpet arrivals for theGrio’s after-party for the White House Correspondent’s dinner. For the second year running, the event was at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. Diana Ross performed.
New this year was the special “Byron Allen Presents Juneteenth: Celebrating Centuries of Black Excellence.” Available on both theGrio’s cable channel and streaming, the event commemorated the emancipation of enslaved people. Moriba says that it will return again next year.
The streaming-only special “TheGrio Heroes” recognizes everyday heroes who audiences may otherwise never hear about. All of the honorees are members of local communities.
In the midst of history and awards, Allen remains true to his comedy roots. Ongoing special series “Funny You Should Ask” pairs comedians with contestants in a game-show format where comedians answer trivia questions with jokes, ultimately helping earn their partners a cash prize. The show’s celebrities have included Tiffany Haddish, Sherri Shepherd, Jon Lovitz and Howie Mandel. Kevin Hart appeared as a relatively unknown comic when Allen wanted to help provide him with a bigger platform.
Allen came up with the concept when he was just 14 years old. He was writing for Jimmie Walker at the time, getting paid $25 per joke. Allen reminisces about working with now-known names like David Letterman and Jay Leno and their writing processes. They decided to ask questions together as an exercise prompt knowing there would be funny answers. That planted the seed for what ultimately became the show.
Allen delves into a formula relating to the comedians, their time in each episode and number of laughs that audiences can anticipate. “I call it our ROI [return on investment] TV return,” says Allen. “If you give us two hours of your time, our goal is to give you 80-plus laughs, so ROI TV,” he explains.
Audiences can catch “Funny You Should Ask” on Dec. 9 on CBS.
Another of Allen’s ongoing specials is “Comics Unleashed.” Both established and up-and-coming comedians have been featured since its premiere. “I’m proud of that show,” he says. “It’s a great way to showcase comedians who have dedicated their lives to making people laugh.”
Roberts says, “Byron is the kind of leader that inspires all of us.”
Allen, for his part, is clearly proud of all that his vast holdings have produced — and not without hard work. “Our goal,” says Allen, “was to build the world’s largest media company to help effect change for the greater good.”
Looking ahead, the lengthy list of specials and events will continue to grow, shepherded by Allen’s ambition and intention.
In the year to come, audiences can anticipate their favorite specials and events returning for another year, as well as new ones, like “Byron Allen Presents a Merry Soulful Christmas.” Originally slated for this year and pushed in order to give it time to come together, the musical special will provide audiences with a contemporary way to celebrate the holiday season. It will have the same finish and pizzazz as the other productions on the slate.
“Byron is the guy who bridges the classic old Hollywood with the future of tomorrow,” notes Roberts of the roots of their organization.
Hard work — and laughs— help fuel the upward Allen trajectory.