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Starz Finds ‘Power’ in Authentic Drama

On June 7, Starz will premiere Power, a new drama series about a wealthy nightclub owner (played by Omari Hardwick) who doubles as the kingpin of the most lucrative drug network in New York. The series’ creator and executive producer, Courtney Kemp Agboh, recently spoke to Multichannel News programming editor R. Thomas Umstead about the series and its multicultural cast, a rarity in today’s television marketplace for scripted dramas. Agboh, an African-American woman whose credit list includes producer of the hit CBS series The Good Wife, also talks about the importance of offering authentic, three-dimensional characters to a growing multicultural audience that’s looking to see themselves portrayed authentically on-screen. An edited transcript follows.

MCN: There seems to be a growing interest among viewers and networks for dramas featuring multicultural casts. Do you agree?

Courtney Kemp Agboh: The overall thing to me is that it’s not as much a bifurcated world as it used to be; it used to be you had white shows and shows with people of color. One of the great things that Grey’s Anatomy and shows like that did is to show people that there’s actually a market here. Everyone wants to see themselves on TV, and that they also want to see worlds that look like the world that they’re in.

When I was a young woman, I was always surprised at the world that the show Friends was in — it was New York, but nobody was of color. It was surprising to me because it wasn’t real; that isn’t what it’s like when you are in New York and you’re on the subway. So I’ve always felt that these shows just represent what the world actually looks like as opposed to an artificial world or a sanitized world.

MCN: What are you trying to accomplish with Power, and how did the cast and story come together in your mind as you were developing it?

CKA: I don’t just think in terms of cultural diversity or a multicultural cast; that wasn’t my point with Power whatsoever. I don’t think of the show as being a show about people of color. The show is about people who, for example, have lost the one who got away, or a man who wants to change his life and wants to be something other than who he is. The show is about identity, and can you change yourself after you’ve been something for a long period of time? The show is about feminine power, and how women have power.

The show is about being more than one person at a time; the different masks that we wear. The themes that I’m trying to explore are not specific to being of color.

I think that hopefully we are beyond the point where we have to say well this is story about a black person, it’s not. Not all of what Scandal is about is about Olivia Pope being black. It just so happens that the themes that are running through her life, which are “I’m having an affair with a guy and he’s the president and . . . .”

But that could be true of a person who was Latina or Asian or white, it doesn’t matter. I think that’s really important. My purpose in creating Power was not necessarily to tell a story about a black person or a black family. It was to tell a story about a man in transition.

MCN: I certainly agree. Multicultural images are still found on just handful of shows. Power brings a number of African-American, Hispanic [and] Latino images to the screen that we don’t necessarily see all the time, at the same time. Do you think that this is a trend that will continue beyond Power?

CKA: I actually think that most of that has to do with the outlets. Starz definitely wanted to take a chance on a show with this kind of content and this kind of cast. They didn’t ask me to make anyone a different race. They didn’t ask me to change the scenes.

I’m on a network where there’s a pirate show and a time-travel show, and there’s The White Queen, and I think that’s one of the great things about Starz … you can tell any story you want. And so, to me it’s actually the bravery of the outlet that makes these things possible.

MCN: What kind of response are you looking for with this show?

CKA: One thing that I really want, what I desire most for Power is that people watch it and go, “That feels like that really happened. That feels like a place that I’ve been or a place I could go to. That feels like something I’ve seen.” Most importantly, “That feels like something I’ve felt, or that feels like something that I feel right now. And these characters are speaking things that I have spoken or that I’ve always wanted to say.”

I think that that kind of response — the response that I desire most deeply from the audience —is a response you can only get when there is a truth and a reality and honesty to the television program.