A year after NAACP’s production partnership with CBS Studios formally launched with the hire of Sheila Ducksworth as President, the venture has sold its first projects. The five shows — spanning platforms (broadcast and streaming) and genres (drama, dramedy, comedy, limited series), include a reboot of cult 1991 movie Soapdish for Paramount+, with original co-star Whoopi Goldberg reprising her role and Jane the Virgin creator Jennie Snyder Urman co-writing the dramedy adaptation.
Goldberg is one of three top comedians attached to star in NAACP-CBS Studios projects, with D.L. Hughley and Earthquake set to headline autobiographical comedy series in the works at Fox and CBS, respectively.
Real people and events are the inspiration behind two dramatic projects, a limited series at Apple TV+ with Kapital Entertainment, which tells the story of the courageous Little Rock 9 Black students who helped end school segregation in the South, and drama Construction at Paramount+, inspired by NYC building magnate Cheryl McKissack for Paramount+. CBS Studios is the studio on all projects except Little Rock Nine, which is an Kapital/Apple Studios co-production; Soapdish is a co-production with Paramount TV Studios.
“This slate is highly indicative of the kind of fare that we’re looking to put forward, which is fresh and entertaining, with a strong point of view, and we have been very fortunate to have several attachments that we think will really propel our projects in a big way,” Ducksworth told Deadline. “We’re working with Whoopi Goldberg, we’re working with DL Hughley, we’re working with Earthquake, and we have several more projects in the queue that also have big talent attachments which we’re very excited about. It’s representation at its best, it’s showing different sides of life, different opinions, different types of people that there are, and that’s our goal for all of this: to have full inclusion of all different types of viewpoints in all that we do in a fun way.”
In putting together the slate, Ducksworth, who executive produces all of the venture’s projects, has tapped into the relationships she had developed over her two decades of industry experience, including serving as a producer on the landmark Showtime drama series Soul Food, winner of seven NAACP awards, as well as stints as head of TV for Will Packer and Susanne Daniels’ companies.
Here are details and the stories behind the five shows from NAACP-CBS Studios’ inaugural slate:
Soapdish: Co-written by Jennie Snyder Urman and up-and-coming writer Asha Michelle Wilson (American Horror Story) based on the 1991 feature, Soapdish is described as a juicy, soapy, and twisty dramedy ensemble starring Goldberg who reprises her role as Rose, Head Writer for the venerable soap The Sun Also Sets.
Urman and Joanna Klein executive produce via Sutton Street alongside Wilson and Tom Leonardis.
Goldberg was one of the first people that Ducksworth reached out to when she started at NAACP-CBS Studios. The two, who had known each other for a while, jumped on Zoom to discussed things they were interested in. During that virtual meeting, they both shared their love for Soapdish, which put the idea for the TV adaptation in motion.
The next big step was bringing on board one of the biggest showrunners on the CBS Studios’ roster, Urman, who, along with her executive, Klein, suggested Wilson as a co-writer.
“I consider it a real coup to be working with Jennie Snyder Urman. She is a powerhouse in every sense of the way,” Ducksworth said.
The movie was distributed by Paramount Pictures, making for complex negotiations and ultimately a co-production by the two ViacomCBS sibling TV studios, CBS Studios and Paramount TV Studios. “It’s going very well,” Ducksworth said of the project, which, like all ViacomCBS library title-driven shows, landed at Paramount+.
Directed by Michael Hoffman, written by Robert Harling and Andrew Bergman and produced by Aaron Spelling and Alan Greisman, the 1991 movie featured an all-star cast that included Sally Field, Kevin Kline, Robert Downey Jr., Elisabeth Shue, Goldberg, Teri Hatcher, Cathy Moriarty, Garry Marshall, Kathy Najimy, and Carrie Fisher.
Untitled DL Hughley Show: Fox has given a script commitment plus penalty to the project, co-produced with 3 Arts and Fox Entertainment
Co-created, co-written and executive produced by Hughley and The Last O.G. showrunner, writer-producer and comedian Owen Smith, the comedy, headlined by Hughley, is based on his life. Unfiltered, unapologetic, and opinionated radio host DL Hughley is free at work but under siege at home as he navigates life as a husband and father to an LGBTQ+ daughter, a son on the autism spectrum whose white girlfriend lives with them, and another daughter who can’t leave his credit card alone.
“DL is one of those rarities to me in that he really can do it all, but even more than that, what I find really special about him is that he doesn’t pull any punches,” Ducksworth said of the veteran comedian and radio host. “He says it exactly how he means it, and he is consistent across the board in expressing his point of view — and he definitely has one.”
Untitled Earthquake Project:
Co-created by Earthquake — who also is set to star — and Robb Chavis (black-ish) and written by Chavis, who is under an overall deal at CBS Studios, the CBS comedy centers on single dad-and-dating comedian Quake who goes from good time dad to full time dad when his two kids move in with him, forcing him to juggle his career as a standup comedian and a D.C. comedy club owner, which includes him taking back the reins of the club’s management from his free-wheeling childhood friend.
Earthquake (real name Nathaniel Martin Stroman) and Chavis executive produce alongside Erika Conner and Jermaine Smith.
“Earthquake has been one of my favorite comedians for years, maybe even decades, and he’s one of those people that I always said I really want to work with him,” Ducksworth said of the comedian who, like Hughley, also has a radio show. “He was very motivated to do television, and what we’re doing with him is inspired by his own life of raising his kids as a single dad. Those are really the best of stories, where you can borrow from what you know and how you live.”
Construction: Written by The Good Fight and Evil co-executive producer Davita Scarlett, who is under an overall deal at CBS Studios, the drama for Paramount+ is inspired by Cheryl McKissack, fifth generation owner of the oldest minority and female construction company in America. Described as Dynasty meets Succession in a high stakes family saga, the series follows a 5th generation Black, NYC female construction magnate in the hard-knuckled male-dominated world of a trillion dollar industry in which she navigates big money; city and state politics; and above all else, family.
Scarlett and McKissack executive produce; McKissack’s producing partner Chandra McQueen is a producer.
“If people don’t know Cheryl McKissack, they’re going to be in for a real treat. She is really one of a kind,” Ducksworth said. “She is running the oldest and biggest minority-owned construction company in the country, she’s fifth-generation, roots in the South, has been working here in New York, doing the biggest kind of endeavors in the field of construction for decades, including Barclays Arena in Brooklyn as well as Harlem Hospital. She is renovating Terminal 1 for JFK now and has many, many projects that are in the works.”
Ducksworth and Scarlett, who share alma mater, have been friends for about a decade. “I’ve been looking forward to working with her,” Ducksworth said, noting that finding a project to collaborate with CBS Studios-based Scarlett was a priority once she joined studio’s NAACP venture.
Little Rock Nine
On this 65th anniversary of one of the most seminal events in American history, the eight-part limited series, which is in very early development at Apple TV+, takes a deep dive into the 1957-1958 school year of Little Rock 9, and the showdown that rocked the nation.
Gwen Parker is writing as well as executive producing alongside Kapital Entertainment’s Aaron Kaplan and Brian Morewitz.
After segregated schools were proclaimed unconstitutional in the U.S., the NAACP in 1957 registered nine black students to attend the previously all-white Little Rock Central High. After the Arkansas National Guard was deployed by the Governor to block the students from entering the school, President Eisenhower had to intervene, providing military escort to the teens. Still, the nine were subjected to a year of physical and verbal abuse by many of the white students.
The limited series, a departure from the rest of Ducksworth’s slate, “which are a real mix of high drama and big comedy,” was brought to her by Kaplan. “He let us know that he had optioned the book ‘Warriors Don’t Cry’, written by one of the original Little Rock Nine, Melba Beals,” and that he had found a writer, Parker, Ducksworth said. “The angle that we’re going to be entering it is very special, and what makes it even more special is when you think about the fact that this year, 2022, is 65 years since that event happened, so, it’s a real milestone.”
What also sets this project apart is that NAACP is not just a producer, it is also part of the narrative, and the organization is opening their archives to the Little Rock Nine creative team.
“The NAACP was at the forefront of that event back in 1957, and in fact, Daisy Bates, the president of the local chapter of the NAACP, was the force to make it all happen back then,” Ducksworth said. “So, the NAACP is well-steeped in this project, Little Rock Nine, and I have to say, we couldn’t ask for a better partner.”
That goes beyond the limited series.
“The NAACP is highly supportive of everything that we’re doing,” Ducksworth said. “I talk with [President and CEO] Derrick Johnson all the time, he’s very intimately involved in everything that we do, including when we were out pitching the [Little Rock Nine] project, he was on those pitches, as well.”
The venture works with both established and upcoming Black writers.
“Our approach is we read everything, We read everything. We meet with people to get a sense of the kinds of things that are of interest to them, and it’s a real gamut,” Ducksworth said, teasing a big project from a baby writer with a strong point of view.
“The current political and societal landscape demand that we expand the voices, contexts, and visibility of artists producing content around the African American experience,” Johnson said. “Great storytelling has a unique ability to entertain, educate, and influence perspectives on critical issues. The projects stemming from the NAACP partnership with CBS Studios will continue to push the boundaries on the variety of stories available to audiences.”
Johnson’s partner on the initiative has been George Cheeks, President & CEO of CBS, who has been the driving force behind the production venture.
“This partnership with Derrick Johnson and the NAACP is incredibly important to our efforts to expand inclusive storytelling across CBS and the entire content ecosystem,” Cheeks said. “It’s been exciting to watch Sheila and her team bring this venture to life over the past year. They have delivered a development slate rich in creative talent and diverse in content, with multiple projects set up for broadcast and streaming.”
Ducksworth, who acknowledged CBS Studios President David Stapf and his team for their support on all fronts — from providing talent from the studio roster to helping with IP acquisitions, brainstorming and dealmaking — called Cheeks “a real shining and guiding light in all of this.”
She recalled that when she first came onboard, she had a conversation with Cheeks, in which she said that, while primetime series have been the mainstay of what she had done, she also was looking forward to producing for all dayparts and do things internationally.
“And he has supported that, and everything from animation, to unscripted, to — of course, our hours and our half-hours — but you name an everyday part, daytime, late night, he has really supported that effort that we have representation across all shows across the board,” Ducksworth said. “When we talk about what the next endeavor will be, I’ll say we’re looking to do more than we did the year before, and that’s the goal of it all, to keep building and having a leader like George and at the top of everything has made it really an experience that is not only a joy but really fruitful. So, we’re expecting really incredible projects to come from all of that.”