The hosts of “106 & Park” are both out after five years with BET’s most popular series, with one suggesting he was pushed out the door.
A.J. and Free had their last shows last week, and their exits prompted an “overwhelming” number of calls and e-mails from fans, a network spokeswoman said Monday. The popular music video and interview show, which airs weekdays for 90 minutes at 6 p.m. EST, is a cousin to fellow Viacom network MTV’s “Total Request Live.”
A.J. Calloway said he was told by BET executive Stephen Hill that the network’s new head of programming, Reginald Hudlin, was looking to change the face of the network.
With his contract up, Calloway said he was offered a very brief extension — no more than three months. He felt he was being given a message.
“After five years of growing the show to what it is today, it was basically a no-brainer situation,” he said.
Hill, BET’s executive vice president for music and entertainment programming, said Calloway was never told he wasn’t wanted. He would not discuss specifics of contract talks.
“His announcement to leave was a surprise because we were in the process of negotiations to retain him, as we were with Free,” Hill said.
Said Calloway: “If you’re trying to aggressively keep someone, you don’t offer them a month-to-month contract.”
Free, whose given name is Marie Wright, did not immediately respond to an e-mail message for comment.
The move prompted an outcry from fans of “106 & Park,” which is continuing and may soon audition replacement VJs.
“I assumed we were going to get a number of calls, but we’ve actually gotten an overwhelming amount of phone calls and e-mail,” said BET spokeswoman Marcy Polanco. “A lot of them have been from parents.”
Hill said the two hosts “gave an amazing face to our video programming and our programming in general. A.J. and Free are stars, absolutely are stars.”
Calloway said he’s looking to stay in show business. He’s opening a restaurant in Brooklyn this fall.
“I love and respect them for the opportunity they have given me,” he said. “It’s just it’s a hard exit. Nothing lasts forever.”