Tag Archives: Kenya Barris

Black writing talent thriving in US

Black screenwriters are rarer than unicorns in European TV drama, but there is a growing number of talented black writers making their mark in US broadcasting and streaming. This week, we look at some of the best-known names and rising stars in the hope it might inspire the European business to embrace ethnic diversity. Take note of how many of this clever bunch also happen to be women – and how many black writers are involved in hits.

latoya-morganLaToya Morgan is in the news this week after signing a two-year deal with cable network AMC. Morgan has recently finished writing for the Revolutionary War drama Turn: Washington’s Spies and will now join the team on AMC’s Into the Badlands. She will also be given the chance to develop new TV projects. She also previously worked on the Shameless writing team at Showtime.

Courtney-Kemp-Agboh[2]Courtney Kemp Agboh recently told DQ that she started her career as a comedy writer and “sucked.” Fortunately, she reinvented herself as a drama writer and has gone on to have great success with Starz series Power, which tells the story of a club owner who also runs a huge drug network. Prior to her success with Power, Kemp Agboh worked on The Good Wife.

tylerperryTyler Perry is good at most things in the media business. As a TV writer, he is best known as the creator of The Haves and the Have Nots, one of the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN)’s top-performing dramas. Perry has an ongoing deal with OWN that has seen him produce a number of scripted series include If Loving You Is Wrong and Love Thy Neighbour.

kenyabarrisKenya Barris is best known as the creator of ABC’s acclaimed comedy Black-ish, which includes Michelle Obama among its fans. This funny series focuses on the challenges faced by a successful black ad agency exec as he tries to keep hold of his heritage while assimilating with the bourgeois, mainly white community he now lives in. A third season was ordered by ABC on March 3 this year.

Lee_Daniels_2013Lee Daniels shot to the front rank of screenwriters thanks to Fox hit Empire, co-created with Danny Strong. After the success of Empire, Daniels started working on another music-based scripted show with Tom Donaghy. Called Star, the series is about three girls who form a band, and charts their rise to the top. Like Empire, Star is for Fox, with which Daniels has an overall deal.

aishamuharrarAisha Muharrar, a Harvard graduate, made a name for herself as part of the team on NBC’s Parks & Recreation, having previously worked on comedy series Sit Down Shut Up. Muharrar is now reported to be working with Parks & Rec star Amy Poehler on a new comedy for NBC about a young agnostic woman who inherits a church and its strong-willed community.

john-ridleyJohn Ridley is best-known as the Oscar-winning screenwriter of 12 Years a Slave, but he is now having a big impact in TV. Having set up the successful ABC series American Crime, he is in the process of bringing crime series Presence to the screen for ABC. He is also working on Guerrilla, a six-part limited series for Showtime and Sky Atlantic that stars Idris Elba and Freida Pinto.

Janine-Sherman-BarroisJanine Sherman Barrois was a key member of the team on CBS’s long-running crime drama Criminal Minds until she signed a deal with Warner Bros Television to create and develop new drama series. Prior to all this, she worked on The Jamie Foxx Show, The PJs and Third Watch. Sherman Barrois is also active advocate of increased industry diversity.

MishaGreenMisha Green has previously worked on Kurt Sutter’s Sons of Anarchy for FX, Syfy thriller Helix (cancelled last year after two seasons) and popular NBC drama Heroes. But her big breakthrough has come as creator (with Joe Pokaski) and executive producer of WGN’s Civil War drama Underground – which tells the story of slaves escaping to freedom via the underground railroad.

shondarhimesShonda Rhimes is one of the top drama showrunners in the business, but as well as being an amazing talent in her own right, she’s also bringing through new black talent such as Zoanne Clack (see below), Raamla Mohamed and Zahir McGhee. In terms of her own credentials, Rhimes has created or overseen several hits for ABC including Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and How to Get Away With Murder.

zoanneclackZoanne Clack was a doctor before she got into the TV business. Her medical background helped her secure a role working on Grey’s Anatomy, though now she has more than demonstrated her creative skills as a writer and story editor. The most recent news about Clack was that she is working on a new series for ABC about a US Army Medevac team based in the Iraqi city of Baghdad.

justinsimien_1331505284_46Justin Simien is a rising star who made the acclaimed film Dear White People. Netflix recently ordered a 10-part adaptation of the film, to be produced by Lionsgate. Due to land on Netflix in 2017, the series version of Dear White People tells the story of a group of students of colour at a fictional Ivy League university dominated by white students.

ClementVirgoClement Virgo is actually Canadian, but gets in here because of his impact on the North American TV business. Following his adaptation of Lawrence Hill’s The Book of Negroes, he is currently working with Hill again on The Illegal. This is the story of Keita Ali, a young marathon runner who flees his repressive native home and finds himself in a community of undocumented refugees living in a wealthy country. Virgo is also exec producing OWN’s Greenleaf.

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Down with the kids

The TV industry is constantly being told that it is out of touch with the teen audience, which now spends so much of its leisure time snacking content on mobile or immersed in social media. So it was interesting to see which scripted shows came out on top at the Teen Choice Awards, a Fox TV event that invites teens to vote for their favourite stars and shows across a range of categories.

In the Best TV Drama category, the winner was Pretty Little Liars, with Castle, Empire, The Fosters, Grey’s Anatomy and Nashville named on the shortlist.

In the Breakout Show category, the winner was Empire, with Blackish, iZombie, Jane the Virgin and Younger also nominated (also on the latter shortlist was Becoming Us, an ABC Family reality show with a transgender theme).

So this week we’ve decided to give a shout-out to the writers and creators who seem to have their fingers on the teen pulse.

Pretty-Little-LiarsPretty Little Liars
In previous columns we’ve commented on the huge social media following established by this ABC Family show, created by I Marlene King. King is already committed to two more series of PLL (which is based on books by Sara Shepard) and also made one series of a spin-off called Ravenswood.
Going forward, she has been signed up to adapt Danielle Vega horror novel The Merciless as a film. She is also developing another Shepard novel, The Perfectionists, as a TV series for ABC Family.

Castle
Castle is a crime drama that has been airing on ABC since 2009. Now up to 151 episodes, it was created by Andrew Marlowe and focuses on the love-hate relationship between a homicide detective and a mystery novelist. Marlowe cut his teeth on movies such as Air Force One, End of Days and Hollow Man and is now developing new ideas with ABC Studios. In 2014, the prime responsibility for Castle shifted to David Amann, whose own track record includes Three Rivers, Without a Trace, Crossing Jordan and The X-Files. Amann will not, however, be involved with season eight of Castle, with no news yet about his replacement as showrunner.

empire720Empire
Empire is arguably the biggest breakout series of the last year. A Fox show that focuses on a hip-hop music business, it was created by Lee Daniels and Danny Strong. There was big news regarding Daniels this week, with reports that he is writing, directing and executive producing a new music drama pilot for Fox called Star.
Fox was impressed enough by Daniels’ idea to order a pilot based solely on his outline. Fox TV Group chairman and CEO Dana Walden said of Star: “Like Empire, it’s set against the backdrop of the music business but from a different perspective.”

the-fostersThe Fosters
Another ABC Family show, The Fosters follows the lives of the Foster family, consisting of an interracial lesbian couple raising a blended family of biological, adopted and foster children. Now in its third run, it was created by Peter Paige and Bradley Bredeweg, who still write the opening and closing episodes of each season (the rest being penned by a large writing team).
Paige is actually better known as an actor, having appeared in series such as Queer As Folk, Will & Grace, Grey’s Anatomy and Bones. He and Bredeweg teamed up again as writers on Tut, the Spike miniseries, alongside fellow writer Michael Vickerman.

Nashville
ABC’s country music drama was created by Callie Khouri, who won an Academy Award in 1992 for the Thelma & Louise screenplay. Until Nashville, she mostly worked in movies, writing films such as Something to Talk About, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood and Mad Money.
Recently Khouri has shared responsibility for key episodes with Dee Johnson, whose many credits include Melrose Place, Commander in Chief and The Good Wife. She was also showrunner on season two of Boss.

Grey’s Anatomy
This long-running ABC series is the creation of Shonda Rhimes – click here for DQ’s in-depth look at the showrunner’s prodco ShondaLand.

blackishBlack-ish
Blackish is a sitcom that centres on an upper-middle-class African-American family. Recently renewed for a second season, it was created by Kenya Barris, whose previous credits include The Game, I Hate My Teenage Daughter and Are We There Yet?.
Current projects in the works from Barris include the movie Barbershop 3 and an untitled ‘girl’s trip’ project for Universal that he will co-write with Tracy Oliver, his partner on Barbershop 3.

izombieiZombie
This CW series was developed by Rob Thomas and Diane Ruggiero-Wright and is based on a comic book series of the same name. Thomas has been writing and creating series in the teen/young-adult space for two decades, with credits including Dawson’s Creek, Veronica Mars and 90210.
Ruggiero-Wright also worked on Veronica Mars and counts Dirty Sexy Money among her credits. iZombie recently secured a second-season pick-up.

Jane the Virgin
Jane the Virgin was created by Jennie Snyder Urman, whose recent credits include Emily Owens MD, 90210 and, a few years back, Gilmore Girls.

youngerYounger
Younger is a TV Land series about a 40-year-old recently divorced mother who gets a makeover and passes herself off as a 26-year-old. Recently commissioned for a second season, it was created by Darren Star, whose credits include Melrose Place, Beverly Hills 90210 and Sex and the City – all of which he also created.

So what can we learn from the tastes of US teenagers? Well, the really inspiring thing to note is the emphatic support for diversity in this mix. Black showrunners, gay showrunners and feminist showrunners all appear in the above list, writing about the widest possible array of characters. The clear message is that US teens are running ahead of the curve in the pursuit of diversity and social equality.

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