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Hollywood put up plenty of obstacles. 'Soul Food' still became a Black TV pioneer

Greg Braxton, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

The film's writer and director, George Tillman Jr., wrote the script based on his experiences growing up with his family in Milwaukee. "I was writing out of desperation trying to start a career," he said. "They always say write from your heart, and family was always important to me."

His original script was 250 pages, which he had to cut way down for the feature. So even though the movie was a hit, he always knew he had more stories to tell that didn't fit into the film.

Singer-songwriter Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds and then-wife Tracey Edmonds, both producers on the film, were excited about expanding it into a TV series. Said Tracey in a 2000 interview: "We're hoping that it's seen as groundbreaking television. There are so many aspects of African American life that have never been shown on TV."

The vast majority of shows that featured Black families before "Soul Food" were situation comedies that put the emphasis on laughs.

Henderson, who at that time had worked only on comedies such as "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air," felt a connection to the film and felt confident she could develop it into a drama.

"I had seen the film five times," Henderson said. "I'm one of six girls. I knew I could bring an audience to a story about three sisters. My main goal was to put a Black family in front of an American audience in a three-dimensional way, to be very specific culturally but to see that they seem just like any other family in America. I would depict them with all their flaws."

 

But the producers ran into obstacles. In the 2000 interview, Edmonds said that when she first proposed the movie as a series soon after its release, 20th Century Fox, which owned the picture, wanted to make it a sitcom.

"The studio and the network just thought of it as a half-hour," Edmonds said. "That's not what we wanted at all. We would get in the door because of the success of the movie. But then we weren't getting our calls returned. We lost the heat of the movie and had to start from scratch. We were so lucky Showtime believed in us."

Added Tillman last week: "Showtime became the perfect place, because we could do a lot more with language and (were) able to stretch it out more."

Then-Showtime President Jerry Offsay was a huge fan of "Soul Food" and felt a spinoff would fit in perfectly with the premium network's strategy of reaching out to diverse audiences eager for more culturally oriented fare that was largely missing from network television. Showtime launched the L.A.-set Latino drama "Resurrection Blvd." two days before the premiere of "Soul Food."

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