Dee Harris-Lawrence proved she was a Wonder Woman when she took on the Amazonian task of running two shows at the same time — OWN’s David Makes Man and CBS’s All Rise. She agreed to do both before the pandemic hit, and it wasn’t long before she found herself spending hours on Zoom with the casts and crews of both shows.
“I did say to people after that, ‘If I ever say I’m going to run two shows at the same time, pull me off somewhere and slap me across the face,” Harris-Lawrence joked.
Joking aside, for Tarell Alvin McCraney, David Makes Man’s writer and creator, Harris-Lawrence was the reason his show about a 14-year-old boy fighting to make his way out of the projects was able to go forward.
“We needed her,” said McCraney, who wrote the play on which the Oscar-winning movie Moonlight was based. “She has a strong voice as a writer. She has a fascinating ability with systems and structure and I had never created a show for TV before.
“But what finally made us understand that this was the person who was going to guide our ship was that she had grown up in a very similar way to the show’s main character,” he added. “She just brought so much together in a way we desperately needed.”
Harris-Lawrence, with her writer’s ear for character, brought that same talent to All Rise, which starred Simone Missick as Los Angeles County Judge Lola Carmichael.
“Dee was such a breath of fresh air coming into the first season of All Rise,” Missick said. “She immediately had a goal and a vision for my character that was innovative and specific to her being a Black woman in a position of power. That attention to detail was what I think allowed the audience to continue to fall in love with these people on a human level.” (CBS canceled All Rise in May.)
Harris-Lawrence has been working in television for several years, starting as Quincy Jones’s assistant and then working for Suzanne de Passe before briefly going out on her own to try her hand at writing screenplays. She was quickly called back to work as a writer’s assistant on Sister, Sister, but she kept writing on her own. After producer Josh Goldstein happened to read a spec script she left out on her desk, he gave her a shot on teen series Sweet Valley High that helped get her going.
But first, she took a detour to get her MBA. After the first year, she scored a job as a writer on Fox’s New York Undercover but, again juggling several things at once, finished the program.
“Having my MBA definitely helped in managing people,” Harris-Lawrence said. “I’m very systems-oriented, but I also have always been obsessed with television, books and movies. I kind of toggle between my left brain and my right.”
“She’s just great at what she does,” said Susan Rovner, chairman, entertainment content, NBCUniversal Television and Streaming, who hired her for both shows when she was president of Warner Bros. Television. “You know she’s good because of the distinct quality of the product she puts out — the consistency of how good those episodes are, the fact that they are on budget, on time and creatively excellent.”
Sought-After Skill Set
Having all of those skills in one person makes Harris-Lawrence a rare commodity in Hollywood, and with the current content explosion, ever more in demand.
Next up, she’s heading into production on Josephine, a limited series she wrote about chanteuse Josephine Baker starring Ruth Negga. Harris-Lawrence is executive producing the series along with LeBron James and Maverick Carter’s Springhill Productions, with Millicent Shelton directing. All three women — Harris-Lawrence, Negga and Shelton — are executive producing the series, which is in development at ABC Signature.
Said Harris-Lawrence: “It’s a great blessing and a really nice position to be in, especially as we’re all coming out of this pandemic. It’s exciting to be able to really dig into all these other stories I want to tell.”
Contributing editor Paige Albiniak has been covering the business of television for nearly 25 years. She is a longtime contributor to Next TV, Broadcasting + Cable and Multichannel News. She concurrently serves as editorial director for entertainment marketing association Promax. She has written for such publications as TVNewsCheck, The New York Post, Variety, CBS Watch and more. Albiniak was B+C’s Los Angeles bureau chief from September 2002 to 2004, and an associate editor covering Congress and lobbying for the magazine in Washington, D.C., from January 1997-September 2002.
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