*BURBANK, Calif. — Warner Bros. Television Group has signed an exclusive multi-year development and production pod deal with celebrated broadcaster, author and producer Tavis Smiley, it was announced today by Warner Bros. Television Group President and Chief Content Officer Peter Roth. Under terms of the agreement, WBTVG and Smiley will develop new scripted television series projects for the broadcast networks and cable.
The first projects to be developed under the new pod deal will be television series adaptations of two of Smiley’s books: My Journey with Maya, a memoir of the author’s nearly 30-year friendship with the renowned poet Maya Angelou, and the upcoming Before You Judge Me: The Triumph and Tragedy of Michael Jackson’s Last Days, a vibrant account of the final 16 weeks in the life of legendary pop music superstar Michael Jackson, to be published in June 2016.
The deal between WBTVG and Smiley continues an association that was established earlier this year when Warner Bros. Television acquired the television rights to Smiley’s book Death of a King: The Real Story of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Final Year, which is being developed as an event series with J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot Productions.
Smiley is currently the host of the late-night television talk show Tavis Smiley on PBS as well as The Tavis Smiley Show from Public Radio International (PRI).
Published in April 2015, My Journey with Maya is a remarkable story of friendship, love and courage, in which Smiley shares personal memories of his 28-year friendship with poet, historian, filmmaker and civil rights activist Angelou, one of history’s most fascinating women and one of the most renowned and influential voices of our time. In addition to the TV project, Smiley and acclaimed Tony-winning director Kenny Leon (A Raisin in the Sun) are developing My Journey with Maya as a stage play.
Smiley’s next book, Before You Judge Me: The Triumph and Tragedy of Michael Jackson’s Last Days, will be published in June 2016 and is a taut novelistic rendering of the final months in the life of one of the most iconic figures in modern popular culture. The book will examine the soaring highs and deep lows faced by the late pop star — his constant hunt for privacy in a life that was more public than almost any other, and the pressures he endured as someone whose fame made him socially fragile and almost unable to live.
A revealing and dramatic chronicle of the 12 months leading up to the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Death of a King was published in 2014 and became a New York Times bestseller. Smiley recounts the final 365 days of King’s life, revealing the minister’s trials and tribulations — denunciations by the press; rejection from the president; dismissal by the country’s black middle class and militants; assaults on his character, ideology and political tactics, to name a few — all of which he had to rise above in order to lead and address the racism, poverty, and militarism that threatened to destroy our democracy.
My Journey with Maya, Before You Judge Me and Death of a King are all published by Little, Brown and Company, and written by Tavis Smiley with David Ritz.
In total, Smiley has written and edited 19 books, including his memoir, What I Know for Sure: My Story of Growing Up in America, which became a New York Times bestseller, as did The Rich and the Rest of Us: A Poverty Manifesto, co-written with Cornel West, in which the authors challenge all Americans to re-examine their assumptions about poverty in America — what it really is and how to eradicate it.
Smiley was also the presenter and creative force behind America I AM: The African American Imprint, an unprecedented traveling museum exhibition celebrating the extraordinary impact of African American contributions to our nation and to the world. The nonprofit Tavis Smiley Foundation is in the midst of a $3 million, four-year campaign called Ending Poverty: America’s Silent Spaces, to alleviate endemic poverty in America.
Cited by Time magazine as one of the world’s 100 most influential people, Smiley has also been honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Smiley’s TV projects will be produced through his The Smiley Group, Inc. in association with Warner Bros. Television or Warner Horizon Television, with Warner Bros. Worldwide Television Distribution handling global sales.