OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network recently renewed drama series David Makes Man for its second season. The series, created by Moonlight writer and Oscar winner Tarell Alvin McCraney, follows the exploits of a teenage African-American prodigy looking for a way out of his poor neighborhood while attending a magnet school for gifted students.
David Makes Man showrunner Dee Harris-Lawrence (Shots Fired, Chicago P.D.) spoke with Multichannel News senior content producer, programming R. Thomas Umstead about the social impact of the series, as well as the burgeoning opportunities for producers in today’s multiplatform television environment.
What has surprised you the most about the reaction to David Makes Man? One of the most positively surprising things has been the number of young African-American men that have come up to us regarding the show. It’s one thing to say that the show was great; it's another thing when they say, ‘thank you — finally someone is telling our story,’ because there has never been a show like this about a young African-American boy and what they go through on a day-to-day basis.
What initially drew you to the project? After I met with Tarell for the job of showrunner we had this vibe between us, and I told him that after I read the script that I was the female version of this character of David. I was a daydreamer, and when I started writing, my daydreams finally quieted down because I was writing things down. So I could relate to David in that way in terms of being bused [to school] and living in different neighborhoods; it spoke to me in a major way.
How much input did OWN have in developing the storylines and episodes? It’s a different type of show for OWN because it centers around a 13-year-old African-American boy, but OWN was fantastic because we asked a lot of questions and let them know ahead of time that there would be language and situations. They told us that we had a lot of creative freedom — they did not hover over us or hinder the process. They provided us with the opportunity to tell the story the way we wanted to, which was awesome.
As a showrunner/writer, is this the best time to be in the television business? I would definitely say yes. I even told a group of students that when I first started, we only had the broadcast networks; today, you can create your own series on your phone, post it and people will be able to see it. So it's a great time to be able to not have any hindrances or anything blocking you. As long as you have a good story to tell, this is a great time to tell it.
Do you have any concerns that there may eventually be a ceiling to the number of shows created by and starring people of color and women? I don’t have any concerns only because of the fact that we have so many channels and so much content available today. Also, it’s a different world today because of social media, as well as because of the mindset of the young people globally that are coming up today. They are all unapologetic as to who they are, and everybody feels like they do have a say. It gets me excited to be able to help as many young people as possible to tell their stories.
What’s on your DVR?Watchmen, Project Runway, Black-ish, This Is Us, David Makes Man, Euphoria, Killing Eve
Favorite show of all time? Don’t have just one — The Wire, The Sopranos, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Homicide: Life on the Street
What books are on your night table?Becoming by Michelle Obama; Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
What's your top bucket list travel destination? South Africa, Greece, northern Norway
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R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.