DC Exclusive: Buppies Creator Talks Web Soaps, Blacks in TV and How "90's The Young and the Restless" Inspired Him
Primetime television watchers still mourning the back-to-back (to back) deaths of Girlfriends, Everybod Hates Chris and The Game, along with daytime soap opera fans, frustrated whenever they tune in to All My Children or The Young and the Restless to find beloved, black characters like Jesse, Angie or Neil being pushed to the side (or off a cliff in the case of Y&R's Drucilla), take heart. The revolution is truly being webivised, thanks to BET.com's wickedly-soaptastic web dramedy Buppies.
Starring The Fresh Prince of Belair and Y&R beauty Tatyana Ali (who, along with her sister Anastasia, also co-produces the series via their HazraH Entertainment single), the Cover Girl-sponsored Buppies is the dramatically-comedic saga of Quinci Allen— a celebrity publicist and descendant of black Hollywood royalty, reeling from the death of her power player father, as well as having been recently dumped by her ball player fiance.
The series, which also stars Ernest Waddell as Quinci's pal Shaka, a corporate lawyer by day/rapper by night; Robin Thede, as Priscilla, Quinci's snooty pal from college; Preston Davis, as Prissy's boyfriend Eliot, a sports agent with a secret; and Chante Frierson, as Kourtney, a "get you told" hip-hop heiress who grew up with Q, was created by one Julian Breece, and co-produced by Aaliyah Williams (Game Theory Films).
I recently caught up with the Harvard and USC Graduate School of Cinema-TV alum, who jointly with his producing partner Aaliyah Williams, was highlighted as one of "10 New Voices in Black Cinema" by IndieWire. Breece shared with Daytime Confidential.com how his sharp, hilarious, scripted web vehicle (a first of its kind for BET.com) came to be.
The prolific filmmaker (his debut short The Young and Evil was an Official Selection of the 2009 Sundance Film Festival) also revealed how some of his television influences growing up, from The Cosby Show spinoff It's A Different Word, to Falcon Crest and "90's The Young and the Restless" inform Buppies. Breece also talked candidly about the post-Obama state of African-Americans in primetime and how the current climate doesn't lend itself to waiting around for opportuities.
Daytime Confidential: What made you decide to create a series revolving around black Hollywood socialites?
Julian Breece: Buppies started out as a film school project. When I came up with the idea I’d just moved to Los Angeles and was really intrigued by the Hollywood scene. Anyone who’s worked out here, particularly on the celebrity side, knows that it's a world built completely upon delusion. Sometimes reckless delusion. Then, down the block, you have "black Hollywood," which is reckless delusion times 10, especially when you consider our racial history in this country. You see it and think to yourself, “Hmm, I’m pretty sure this isn’t what Malcolm and Martin had in mind.” So, initially Buppies was meant to be a pure, Curb Your Enthusiam-style comedy that parodied the black elite. This was about five years pre-Obama, mind you, and it’s an approach that wouldn’t be timely now. So, when I developed the series for the web, I decided to make the show more relationship-driven, and flesh out the universal themes of the show. The backdrop is Hollywood, but at its core, Buppies is a story about young people struggling to figure out who they really are in a world where nothing's how it seems.
DC: What sitcoms and/or drama series inspire and/or inform your work as a writer?
JB: Wow, there are so many. In general I love The Sopranos, Brothers and Sisters and Damages the most. I could watch those over and over. For Buppies, in particular, I drew on old school faves like 90’s The Young and the Restless, A Different World, Falcon Crest, and Degrassi, the Jimmy years and pre-Jimmy. As a screenwriter my focus has been on film, but I grew up obsessed with really great TV soap operas. I mean let’s face it, the best stories of our time are soaps at their core, from Pride and Prejudice to Days of Our Lives. People can’t get enough. We wanted Buppies to be a top-notch web soap in every regard. For example, in great shows the music is especially important, so I asked Gary Gunn, a really amazing New York-based composer and producer, to help create a signature sound for the series. At the end of the day, the goal was to present a primetime-style soap that anyone could relate to, and I’m hoping that’s what Buppies ultimately achieves.
DC: Oh it's definitely achieving that and then some. Just four episodes in and i'm hooked, not to mention the readers on the Daytime Confidential blog! In recent years, with the cancellations of such shows as Girlfriends, The Game and Everybody Loves Chris, it seems like there is a "Blackout" on network TV. With so many series featuring black casts, from The Jeffersons to The Cosby Show, being monster hits for the networks in the past, why do you think black shows are being pushed aside?
JB: It’s fear I think. With the rise of pay television and the reality boom, viewers are no longer captive to scripted series that the "Big Four" networks are offering. As a result, networks are losing advertising dollars and that’s led to the creation of an “optimal viewer” calculus that doesn’t seem to include racial minorities. Over the past six years especially, the network focus has shifted from telling great, human stories to chasing those coveted consumer demographics. It’s also a reason why you see great shows turning out fewer seasons. That’s not so much a jab at the TV industry as it is a reality of the game. These executives are desperate to meet their bottom lines, and, unfortunately, black shows are considered to be a big risk.
DC: There have been very few drama series featuring predominately black casts. Showtime had success with Soul Food, but for the most part, black writers have had to mix their drama with a laugh track and a healthy dose of comedy in such shows as It's a Different World, Girlfriends— which you mentioned earlier— to get on the air. Do you think we'll ever see a black Brothers and Sisters or Desperate Housewives in primetime?
JB: I believe so, and very soon actually. I think Shonda Rhimes and Mara Brock Akil paved the way for that with Grey’s Anatomy and Girlfriends respectively. They “get it,” but if you look at their careers they always did. Out here [in Hollywood] it’s first and foremost about creating superior stories and characters, and then it’s about working the game to your advantage. The problem is that during the black sitcom explosion, the majority of black writers only worked on “black shows,” which was fantastic at the time, but it was also a very privileged, comfortable space that got pulled from under them. Don’t get me wrong, it’s tough out here for minority writers, and some of it’s just plain unfair, but you can’t sit around and wait for things to go your way. I’m encouraged because there’s a new crop of young writers that have been making changes from the inside like Shonda and Mara, and I think they’re the ones that’ll bring the next generation of black programming. In fact, I know a few incredibly-talented, young TV writers who are selling scripts and getting deals, which hasn’t been easy this year.
DC: Yes we can! Buppies has one of the most relatable and realistically-drawn ensembles I've seen for a web series. What was your inspiration in creating the life and times of Quinci and her pals?
JB: Thanks for that, Jamey. It means a lot to me that people are taking to these characters and having fun with the show. My direct inspiration for the storylines in Buppies came from the identity crises that I saw a lot of my friends go through post-college. You hit 25 and realize you have no idea what you really want or who you really are. It’s a modern phenomenon that I thought could be immediately relatable and fun to explore.
DC: I know I am still going through my quarter life crisis, seven years later! In addition to an "A" storyline revolving around Quinci coming to terms with both the death of her father, a Hollywood mover and shaker, and her ex's betrayal, Buppies features a down low gay thread with sports agent Eliot (Preston Davis) and pro football player Truth (Damian Wigfall) as its "B" storyline. Why do you think the Down Low phenomenon is so popular with urban audiences?
JB: Fear and curiosity. It’s funny because the last thing I wanted to do was create a “Down Low” storyline or elaborate on that directly, because I think it’s kind of tired. Quincy Lennear and Deondray Gosset’s D.L. Chronicles was a incredibly thoughtful, well-done series that I think put that whole issue to bed narratively. So with Buppies, I wanted to meet people where they still are with D.L. hysteria ,but explore the flipside. Bisexuality is real, and every guy who’s bisexual isn’t cheating. In fact, the ones I know tend to be more monogamous and honest with their parnters than my straight friends. A liar is a liar, a cheater is a cheater. Sexual orientation has no immediate bearing on that, and with the Eliot character I really wanted to explore that notion.
DC: In a recent Wall Street Journal blog, it was revealed Buppies was originally intended for network TV. Could we see the dramedy picked up by BET or another network as a 30-minute or hour long show?
JB: It was actually. Like I said, Buppies started out as a project for a TV class. Then a well-connected producer friend read it and immediately loved the concept. From there he set up a few meetings and I started pitching the show to networks. In fact, Buppies got really far in the process with one network, but at the end of the day, the question became, “How do we get middle-Americans to watch this show?” and from there our TV prospects pretty much crumbled. That said, times have changed and the show’s amazing numbers on BET.com are proving that there’s a broad audience for a show like this. I re-tooled Buppies specifically for the web, but my producing partner, Aaliyah Williams, and I have been approached with quite a few options for Buppies, and other original series. That said, I really encourage fans to let BET/Viacom know your thoughts on the show. It’s a new realm for them, but if people show interest there’s no doubt in my mind that they’ll do more scripted shows like it. The power really is in their hands.