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Byron Allen: The Black media mogul who turned comedy into an empire

The remarkable transformation of Byron Allen: From stand-up comedy to media empire

by Victor Adetimilehin
Bryon Allen

Byron Allen is the founder and CEO of Entertainment Studios, a media business enterprise that owns dozens of television channels, digital systems, and movie production organizations. He is also the owner of The Weather Channel, one of the most trusted sources of climate facts in the United States.

Born on April 22, 1961, in Detroit, Michigan, Allen began his journey in showbiz at a very young age. His early introduction into the entertainment industry was championed by his mother, Carolyn Folks, who worked as a publicist at NBC Studios in Burbank. These surroundings sparked his interest in show business.

Breaking Into ShowBiz

At just 14 years old, Allen crafted his first stand-up comedy routines, making waves inside the Los Angeles comedy scene, and shortly caught the attention of comedian Jimmie Walker, who hired him as a writer for his shows. Allen additionally worked with other young comedians, including Jay Leno and David Letterman, who would later emerge as household names.  His skills and hard work paid off when, at 18, he became the youngest comedian ever to perform on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.” This marked a significant milestone in his profession, as he gained more recognition and expanded his horizons in television.

Allen’s comedic abilities, sharpened through his appearances on the stand-up comedy circuit, paved the way for his numerous television show appearances. His charm captivated audiences, and he soon became a rising star within the broader entertainment industry. In addition to his comedy career, he became a reporter for NBC’s “Real People,” a show that featured normal human beings with fantastic stories, making it his first prime-time network position. 

His reputation as a versatile performer was further proven when he co-wrote and starred in the 1988 CBS television film “Case Closed.” He later hosted his syndicated talk show titled “The Byron Allen Show” from 1989 to 1992 and toured as an opening act for performers such as Dolly Parton and Lionel Richie.

Cementing a Colourful Media Enterprise Legacy

Allen’s grand impact in entertainment is in his disruption of mainstream media practices. In 1993, he got into the media business by founding CF Entertainment, which later became Entertainment Studios, a production company focusing on showcasing low-cost non-fiction television programming. His first project was dubbed “Entertainers in Collaboration with Byron Allen,” a talk show that featured celebrity interviews at hotel press meetings. Allen used a bartered model to distribute his show, offering it to stations for free and sharing the advertising revenue.

This venture pulled Allen from the limelight to become a behind-the-scenes producer of low-cost non-fiction television programming. Building on moderate success, Entertainment Studios grew to become a dominant force, owning and operating various television networks, digital platforms, and film production companies. The company’s portfolio consists of TV channels like Cars TV, Comedy TV, and JusticeCentral TV, as well as films including 47 Metres Down and  Hostiles. In 2018, Allen made headlines when he acquired the widely acclaimed “The Weather Channel” for a substantial $300 million. Continuing in the tradition of shrewd business development, by October 2022, Entertainment Studios was valued at over $4.5 billion.

Fighting for Justice and Black-Owned Media

Great businesses are built on tenacity in the face of obstacles; Allen’s story is not an exception. He has had to deal with discrimination and several lawsuits. He has also sued numerous cable and telecommunications companies, including Comcast and Charter, for allegedly refusing to show his channels, thereby violating the Civil Rights Act of 1866. This consequential lawsuit reached the Supreme Court, highlighting Allen’s passionate commitment to advocating for inclusion and eliminating racial discrimination within the media sector. In similar concerns, he has notably called out large corporations like AT&T. 

Additionally, he sued McDonald’s for allegedly boycotting Black-owned media in their advertisement practises. Allen has professed that he is advocating for financial inclusion and social justice for Black people and other minorities working in the media.

Philanthropy and Advocacy

Allen is not only a successful businessman; he is also active in philanthropy and advocacy. He supports diverse causes and groups that push for healthcare, education, and social justice. He hosted the National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s annual Dinner of Champions for over two decades. Through the dinners, he has raised over $50 million for the cause. He has also donated to the Obama Foundation, the NAACP, and the United Negro College Fund, among many others.

Allen has also been recognised for his numerous contributions to humanity; he has received numerous accolades, including the Bloomberg 50 in 2018, the Brandon Tartikoff Legacy Award in 2019, and the Whitney Young Award at the Los Angeles Urban League Awards dinner. In 2023, he received the inaugural “Legendary Honor” from the African American Student Union of the Harvard Business School.

Allen’s personal lifestyle is not without the vibrance that charms his life. He has been married to TV producer Jennifer Lucas since 2007 and has three kids. He maintains residences in prestigious locations like Aspen, Maui, Los Angeles, and New York City. Allen’s life reflects his success and stature within the media industry.

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