With its rebrand of logo and tagline—“Where Black Life Unfolds”—rolling out August 20, TV One plans to double its original programming this year. An example is “The Rickey Smiley Show,” (premieres Sept ’12) a comedy starring nationally syndicated radio personality Rickey Smiley that’s largely based on his own life and family. Cast and producers spoke to critics at the Television Critics Association Wednesday.
A deacon and trustee of a Baptist church in Birmingham, Ala., the comedian drew a lot of material from his own experience. How much of the show is improv? It’s scripted, but “[executive producer] Roger [Bobb] gave us a little wiggle room,” said Smiley. “Sometimes the writers are there on the set, sometimes we change things on the spot.”
Musician and cast member Ray J said he jumped at the chance to be a part of the show. “As soon as they called me, I was in…. I was excited to get back into a sitcom and TV,” he said. When asked whether performing as a musician helped inform his acting, he explained that acting is completely different—and quite challenging. “Sometimes it looks easy, like you’re having a lot of fun, but it’s still hard work.”
The show will feature about 10 guest appearances throughout the season, including Fred Hammond, Lisa Ray, Tommy Ford and Terri J. Vaughn. “We had this crazy idea to use celebrities as extras…sort of a sidebar,” said Smiley. On why cable networks are now focusing on programming for black audiences Bobb acknowledged that they’ve recognized the demo’s desire for more sitcoms. And “The Rickey Smiley Show” is TV One’s attempt to add variety to that category.
Premiering Sept. 2012 is another original, “Save My Son,” an unscripted series portraying African American families’ struggles to save their sons from negative influences and circumstances. Education activist Dr. Steve Perry works with the family and mentor and former NBA star Derek Anderson to get one particularly troubled boy on track.
When first approached by TV One, Perry declined, saying he didn’t want to do a reality show. But “Save My Son” turned out to be a conduit for real impact, he said, and will “create a blueprint” for others. On why sports, in this case boxing, was used to reach and connect with the boy, Barry Hill, Jr, Perry noted fervently that “it’s not the only way, it’s the first way. This young man says he wants to box, I’ll let him box….I don’t give a damn what way” is required to save the child, he added.
Derek Anderson piped in that the reason sports is the first way to connect with young African American males is this: “Athletes get paid more than teachers…. The world has put a pedestal on us. We’re a means to get him to understand… Until the world changes, we’ll have to go this way.” Though a pro-ball player, Anderson was in fact homeless at 12, and fathered a child at age 14, making him not only a positive role model but someone who could identify with hardship.
Perry made an earnest and urgent appeal to help African American communities and thanked TV One for telling a story about one family that’s “busting their behinds to save their son….There’s no more children left to lose.” As for the son who was saved, what’s it like for him? “I like watching myself change. I get to watch myself boxing.” Co-exec producer Rochelle Brown said the show is “very personal for me…. All of my siblings have gone to college… except my little brother.” On choosing Perry, she said, “We wanted a host that would not come in and talk down to people. It has been amazing, but the hardest thing we’ve ever done with our lives.”