*There was once a time, not even 10 years ago, when African American audiences craved original content that had nothing to do with music. One that provided true insight into a particular subject matter; one that was not super sensational, but informative and interesting.
It appears as though TV One’s Vice President of Original Programming Toni Judkins and Executive Producers Robert Katz and Jerry Peterson may have been thinking the same thing. These are the minds behind TV One’s bio series “Life After.”
“When Toni and I started talking about “Life After” we (not only) thought about a bio series, but a bio series that had a little twist to it,” Katz explained. “What makes ‘Life After’ different than a standard bio series is we would get characters and subjects that had a life changing or life altering event. It could be a positive one, it could be a negative one, but it’s something that changes what’s going on. So like this year’s season Janet Hubert talks about being fired from the very popular ‘Fresh Prince of Bell Air’ and how that affected the rest of her life. It’s actually stories of overcoming adversity in many cases or dealing with too much success too young. For Mark Curry it’s life after burning himself in a fire and for someone like Malcolm Jamal Warner it’s life after the ‘Cosby Show’.”
Bio series are fine for some, and we’ve seen many that have virtually made a mockery out of the subject’s life. But TV One feels their offering is different and far more genuine than others.
“It’s a bio show but we actively look to not do two things,” explained Toni Judkins. “It’s not tabloidy in character, in other words we don’t look for sensationalism just for the sake of sensationalism; and we don’t look at the show as a ‘where are they now’. This is actually taking people with ongoing careers, where they’ve been throughout there lives, what they’ve been through and where they’ve gone. That’s the creative germ on how we put together life after. Sometimes there are stories of overcoming, stories of coping and stories of courage. Last year we did one of my favorite episodes was on Darryl ‘Chill’ Mitchell. He had a motorcycle accident that changed his life, but it made him a stronger and more dynamic individual.”
Some of our readers may be familiar with how Darryl “Chill” Mitchell has taken his tragic motorcycle accident in stride and has continued on in his career with a seemingly unfazed attitude. Meanwhile, “Life After” not only focuses on modern day entertainers, it features some of our favorites from the past as well.
“Like Taimak (‘The Last Dragon’), who found great success at a 21 years old,” Judkins continued, “but hasn’t had anywhere near that type of success since but has gone on to live a very happy life with what he’s doing. We looked at a number of stories and we don’t like to tell the same one over and over. Luckily each story is so different that we’ve been able to not repeat ourselves in the 16 stories we’ve told.”
From what we know of “Life After” it is very unique from other bio series in that it does not focus on a single type of individual and seems never to be too formulaic in nature.
“Toni brought us Ron Artest this year. A great story which had an even better ending as we all know. The Lakers won a championship.” Robert Katz told our Lee Bailey. “For a while he was sort of persona non grata in the NBA. Everybody knew he was great but no one wanted to say it after the brawl, but everybody still knew who he was. They were wondering if he would destroy their team’s chemistry, when actually the opposite was true.”
To the layperson a bio series seems all too easy. You set up a microphone, get some old pictures and footage, and let her rip. But it’s not exactly that simple.
“With each story, we look at it and furnish an outline of what it could be,” said Katz. “Then we talk to each individual and you kind of can tell how much they’re going to contribute to the story. Everything is authorized. We want to take the audience on the ride, but we need the subject to take the lead. We’re only going to go as the subject will take us. Our shows are only as good as they participants that are in it and how good they are.”
When something major happens to a celebrity, be it tragic or otherwise, it is often a shock to their system. After all, they are people too. Katz says that sometimes the people they approach are still dealing with what every scenario befell them and are just not ready to publicize it yet.
“(People don’t want to be bothered) from time to time. The first season, as you can imagine, is always the most difficult because there’s no template. While we don’t tell a tabloid story, we do tell the true story, at least in our eyes. A lot of people are afraid of what might get said. For example, we wanted Vanity, but Vanity didn’t want to grant us the access we needed. But we hope she’ll do the third season after she sees the second.”
TV One’s “Life After” premieres on Monday, July 19th. This season will feature Janet Hubert, Mark Cooper, Karrine Steffans, Malcolm Jamal Warner, Ron Artest, Elise Neal, Shar Jackson and Ruben Studdard. “Life After” is produced for TV One by K2 productions.
Watch clips from upcoming episodes of “Life After”: