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Hollywood’s going to soon learn that whatever filmmaker/producer/writer Tyler Perry wants, he gets - even if its means he pays millions out of his own pocket, at first, to prove a point. Our case in point: Perry’s new entrée’ into the world of television, his first sitcom entitled, “Tyler Perry’s House of Payne.”
The comedy, which Perry’s promotional team calls a ‘throwback to shows like “All in the Family,” “The Jeffersons,” and “RoseAnne,” is about multiple generations of one family sharing an already jam-packed Atlanta home. Back to back episodes debuted last night on TBS in its now weekly Wednesday 9pm timeslot.
As usual with his films including the surprise hit, “Madea’s Family Reunion,” critics panned it, but Perry’s very loyal fan base proved the critics don’t know what they want or like. Perry’s fans loved the show and they tuned in to watch.
“This is a dream come true for me,” said Perry. “I just want to tell real stories about real families in America and I want people to watch it and say hey - that’s us,” he added. The exact overnight ratings were not available by press time, but TBS executives already know Perry is a huge hit.
“People are searching for something that everyone can watch, he told the LA Sentinel. “I try to do what feels right; and I constantly ask myself how would I feel if I was watching this (show) with my grandmother?” Perry described the show as ‘’funny and dramatic with some great moments between families.”
But that’s not the story this week. The real story is how the stop-at-nothing Perry got his sitcom on the air - period. For years, I’ve said the Oprah-loving, 37-year old is flipping the script in Hollywood cutting deals unlike any other in this town, well now, he’s truly doing things his way; bankrolling multi-million dollar production deals and blowing minds at the same time.
And what’s really cool: the very classy Perry is not acting like a mouthy, spoiled rich kid screaming - ‘Hey, Hollywood suits I told you so” or shouting his success from the Santa Monica mountains saying, “You were wrong and I was right.” Instead, the brotha’ is simply going about his business - the business of writing, creating and producing more films, books, theatre plays and sitcom episodes.
“I don’t have time to look back,” Perry said very seriously. “I’m all about moving forward and looking forward. My grandmother always told me if someone tells you no, find a way to make it a yes and that’s what I did.”
Hot off a number one, $30 million opening weekend at the box office with “Madea’s Family Reunion,” Perry walked into a few networks and pitched his idea for “House of Payne.” The suits wanted Perry on their team, offered him “a lot of money to do it” but they also wanted to “mess around” with his concept for the show. They wanted to make “changes.”
Those “changes” included recasting the show and not having his characters make any references to faith or Jesus. Perry wasn’t having it. “You know that ain’t me, so I walked away.”
When he arrived back home in Atlanta, Perry and his producing partner, longtime casting agent and Hollywood veteran Rueben Cannon, came up with another plan. It was a very expensive one. So, Perry went into his own pocket to the tune of $5 million dollars and paid for the first 10 episodes - something that is rarely done in Hollywood especially for an African American.
As a test, the episodes played in selected big markets around the country including Los Angeles. The run delivered “ratings through the roof” You can guess what happened next. Hollywood came calling again. TBS, Turner Broadcasting headquarters in Atlanta, ordered the unheard proposal of 100 episodes and reportedly paid Perry $200 million. Again - rather than brag about the deal, Perry and his team went to work.
How does he explain what happened? “I knew there was only one way I was going to do this and that was the way it was given to me. If I had walked into Hollywood begging for everything, I would have been subject to a lot of control. To do it my way - it’s easier - it’s a better situation and I know what works,” Perry told us.
And staying true to his fan base, Perry via his website, TylerPerry.com, allowed his “fan family” to critique the show and he actually made some of the changes they recommended. “I listened to them and they are quick to tell me what they like and don’t like so the show is all new, new set, new stories, a few new characters and a lo of drama mixed it - this is nothing like any sitcom that you have seen in recent years,” Perry told fans on his website this week.
As for “House of Payne,” there are truly some funny moments. The cast is super talented and in typical TP fashion, he has sprinkled some bible scriptures in the dialogue (TBS didn’t have a problem with the religious content). But Perry makes it clear he’s not trying to be political correct - for instance, there are jokes about a crack head relative that may not go over well with some, but some of the situations may ring true for those who have experienced a family member who’s a substance abuser.
After watching the first few shows, I’d say give ‘House of Payne’ time to grow. (Perry told some reporters he had to quickly write the first few episodes, so the show can only get better)
The storyline features the Payne family and its extended family. Curtis and Ella Payne played by LaVan Davis, Cassi Davis. He’s the fire chief with an attitude who’s kind of like an Archie Bunker type character; wife Ella, who’s been seen in a number of TP’s plays is the church-going and loveable wife. Their college-age son, Calvin (Lance Gross), is a hustler and he’s always hustling his family.
Also in the ‘hood, are Curtis’ nephew, CJ (Allen Payne) - who the show is centered around, his wife Janine (Demetria McKinney) and their two children: Malik (Larramie “Doc” Shaw) and daughter Jazmine (China Anne McClain). When their house catches fire, CJ’s family moves in with his aunt and uncle.
Now you know that’s too many folks - too many of us - under one roof and that leaves plenty of room for drama. If you missed the debut, you really missed a treat. “Madea”, Mrs. Mabel Simmons - Perry’s pistol packing, and wildcat talking grandma character - made an appearance and threatened to kick nearly everyone’s behind.
They’re not promising the hilarious “Madea” in every episode, but TBS is running two shows every Wednesday night at 9pm. If you’re betting on whether this series is a success or not, put your money on Tyler Perry. After all, the brotha seems to know what he’s doing and what his fans really want. In Hollywood, that translates into staying power.