It’s official — the upcoming third season of National Geographic’s scripted anthology series Geniuswill be devoted to the Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin, who died in August at age 76. The announcement was made Sunday at TCA.
Suzan-Lori Parks, Pulitzer Prize award-winning playwright of Topdog/Underdog, will be executive producer and showrunner of the project, from Imagine Television and Fox 21 TV Studios. Music mogul and longtime Franklin collaborator Clive Davis as well as Atlantic Records chairman and CEO Craig Kallman also executive produce.
Genius was renewed for a third season in April, with author Mary Shelley revealed as its subject, to follow Albert Einstein and Picasso. The Mary Shelley story remains in consideration for future installments of the anthology series.
The idea of doing a Franklin-centered Genius came together quickly following the music icon’s August 16 death, spearheaded by Imagine’s Brian Grazer. The project had been moving full steam ahead since, with securing access to Franklin’s music considered the one key element that would clinch a green light.
Bringing David, Kallman and Warner Music Group on board was very important in that aspect, with the producers currently able to use about 80% of Franklin’s catalog and working to secure the remaining titles.
Fox is developing a new event series revolving around a racially-motivated police shooting. The project hails from “Love & Basketball” writer/director Gina Prince-Bythewood and will star Sanaa Lathan, who starred in the 2000 film.
The untitled event series examines the dangerous aftermath of a police shooting when an African-American cop kills a white teen in Tennessee. Lathan (“The Perfect Guy”) will play an expert investigator who digs into the case, alongside a yet-to-be-cast special prosecutor sent to the town by the Department of Justice. The duo must navigate the media attention, public debate and social unrest that accompany such a volatile case, as they seek justice before the divided town erupts into a race war.
The announcement of the project comes amidst of an uproar of recent media attention on racially-motivated police attacks, most notably the Trayvon Martin case, in which the African American teenager was fatally shot by George Zimmerman. The Fox project, however, features a race-flipped scenario with a white teen being killed by a black cop.
Prince-Bythewood, along with Reggie Rock Bythewood, will serve as writers and exec producers on the 20th Century Fox project, which will be directed by Prince-Bythewood. Brian Grazer and Francie Calfo will also exec produce. Prince-Bythewood’s Undisputed Cinema and Imagine Television will also produce.
The event series reunites Lathan and Gina Prince-Bythewood, who worked together “Love & Basketball.” Prince-Bythewood and Bythewood also worked together on “Beyond the Lights.”
Lee Daniels’ reign at 20th Century Fox Television will continue. The “Empire” co-creator has signed a multi-year overall deal with the studio that will allow him to develop, write, direct and supervise new television projects under his Lee Daniels Entertainment banner. He will also remain an executive producer of the popular Fox drama.
“Lee Daniels has a gift for telling authentic, provocative stories that are both truthful and wildly entertaining,” commented Fox Television Group chairmen and CEOs Gary Newman and Dana Walden, who announced the news. “His casting instincts are incredible, whether he is discovering tomorrow’s stars or attracting the most accomplished performers to his projects. As a director, he elevates world class material to even greater heights, balancing heart-wrenching poignancy with surprising moments of levity that are over the top and fun. Quite simply, we love working with this inspired storyteller, and this deal is about extending and deepening our relationship.”
To say that “Empire” has been a win for Fox would be an understatement. The music industry-focused series, which stars Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson, is the highest-rated broadcast drama in seven years.
“I’m incredibly excited to continue my relationship with Dana and Gary, and the rest of the Fox team,” said Daniels. “I’m looking forward to developing content and finding alternative voices for both in front of and behind the camera.”
It’s just the kind of movie clip YouTube was made for. In the 1965 Frankie Avalon vehicle,“Ski Party,” James Brownand his backing vocal group, the Famous Flames, enter a ski lodge after rescuing a frozen reveler. Resplendent in a white-and-red sweater, tight black slacks, black pointy-toed shoes and a regal pompadour, Brown performs “I Got You (I Feel Good),” giving the lily-white crowd of clapping skiers a taste of the showmanship that had made him a star on the so-called “chitlin circuit” among blacks. Even in a movie as disposable as “Ski Party,” Brown turned a corny scene into genuine entertainment.
In the biopic “Get On Up,” opening Friday, the filmmakers recreate this moment, trying to see it from Brown’s point of view. While he glides through his steps, we see slow-motion shots of the listeners as if they were creatures from another, whiter planet, one Brown is reluctantly visiting in hopes of reaching a wider audience. In that scene, Brown dances off the set. In the new film, he does a split but doesn’t come up, apparently having ripped his pants. The new moment is slightly comic but undercuts Brown’s mastery.
Depicting James Brown on screen has always been a seductive proposition. As one of the greatest stage performers of the 20th century, he has inspired documentarians, playwrights, comedians and other artists who see the outlines of his greatness. But capturing the man inside, and the meaning of his life, is a tricky business.
There was a fluidity to his identity that was reflected in his many stage nicknames: Mr. Dynamite, the hardest working man in show business, Soul Brother No. 1, the Godfather of Soul and the Original Disco Man, as he variously billed himself. All enduring pop stars have the ability to shift with the culture, but Brown’s moves — from staunch integrationist to proto-black nationalist and back, from civil rights role model to wife beater, from disciplined bandleader to drug addict — suggest an inner turmoil that belied his outer confidence. Shortly after his death, I helped edit a collection of articles that spanned Brown’s long career, and in reading the pieces was struck by how many journalists saw the contours of the man but struggled to truly penetrate his psyche. With a feature film about to arrive and a coming documentary, it’s time to take stock of this imposing figure.
Brown, who died on Christmas Day 2006, began his career in the ’50s under the spell of Little Richard and ended it as a major influence on current singer-dancers like Usher and Chris Brown. Michael Jackson and Prince, of course, were acolytes. Reared on gospel, blues and jazz, Brown was a dominant force in the soul ’60s, created funk, inspired disco and laid hip-hop’s foundation with his beats.
As important as Brown was on vinyl, his stage show and personality are legendary: Tilting a mike stand far forward and, before it hit the stage, pulling it back via the cord. Dropping into and rising out of splits. Feigning exhaustion and donning a regal cape before returning to sing again. Executing every new dance from the ’60s to the ’80s with deft steps and body control made Brown a dominant figure during an explosive era for pop music.
The family drama from Imagine TV and 20th Century Fox TV stars Terrence Howard as industry heavyweight Lucious Lyon, a tough but wise patriarchal figure. The cast also includes Taraji P. Henson, Gabourey Sidibe, Trai Byers, Kaitlin Doubleday, Grace Gealey, Bryshere ‘Yazz the Greatest’ Gray, Jussie Smollett and Malik Yoba.
The project reteams “Lee Daniels’ The Butler”‘s Daniels and Strong, who co-wrote this pilot with Daniels directing. Grammy Award-winning Tim “Timbaland” Mosley wrote the music for the pilot — marking the first time Mosley has worked so closely on a drama pilot. Executive producers are Brian Grazer, Daniels, Strong and Francie Calfo.
Malik Yoba is set to co-star opposite Terrence Howard in Fox’s hip-hop industry drama pilot Empire, from Lee Daniels, Danny Strong and Brian Grazer. It centers on Lucious Lyon (Howard), a charismatic, savvy music superstar who is about to take his company, Empire Entertainment, public. Yoba, repped by Innovative and the Arlook Group, will play Vernon Turner, Lucious’s longtime friend from the streets and business associate who is now the chairman of the board of Empire Entertainment.
Best known for her memorable role as Maxine Shaw on the sitcom “Living Single” Erika Alexander’s latest endeavor isn’t a TV or film role, but instead a graphic novel series. Developed with her screenwriter husband, Tony Puryear, and her brother Robert Alexander, Concrete Park is set in the a dangerous near-future where gangs threaten to destroy humanity. The main characters are women of color: Luca, a gang leader, and Lena, her lesbian lover. The novels feature a multicultural cast of characters struggling to survive in an increasingly depraved world.
Alexander and her husband recently appeared at San Diego Comic-Con, the popular gaming and pop culture conference, to promote Concrete Park. The pair also recently appeared on the comedy podcast Straight Riffin’. Alexander is just one Hollywood actress of color to venture in the comic book world. Rosario Dawson developed a four-issue series called O.C.T.: Occult Crimes Task Force, which is currently being developed for television. Rashida Jones developed her own graphic novel series called Frenemy of the State in 2009, which was optioned for the big screen by Brian Grazer’s Imagine Entertainment.