Viola Davis Sells Racially Themed 1960s Family Music Comedy to ABC

'The Zipcoders' is based on an original idea about a group of black teens growing up in Texas and their quest to form a band like The Beatles.
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Viola Davis and Julius Tennon

ABC is looking to Viola Davis for its next great family comedy.

The network is teaming with the How to Get Away With Murder star to develop single-camera comedy The Zipcoders, The Hollywood Reporter has learned.

Based on an original idea, The Zipcoders is a comedy about a divorced mother of three in 1968 who moves her family to the east side of Austin, Texas, soon after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., in an effort to be closer to her estranged sister. Once there, her teenage son forms a rock 'n' roll band to the utter bewilderment of friends, family and the community at large. 

The potential series is about the group of teen friends, who aspire to be in a rock band like The Beatles. The idea for The Zipcoders came from Davis and her JuVee Productions partner and husband, Julius Tennon, who were inspired to tell a story about a group of African-American teens with feathered hair and bell-bottoms in the middle of the Deep South.

In came Marshall Todd (Barbershop), who sparked to the idea and will pen the script. After finding parallels to relevant issues today — political, racial and musical — he created a family show around the unique rock group and pitched it to ABC Studios and ABC. Todd will also be credited as an exec producer on the comedy.

"This project gives me the opportunity to tell a story that, while specific to the African-American experience, doesn't travel in the usual tropes," Todd said. "As a parent, I was inspired to tell a story from the dual perspective of parents and children in a world where the rules are constantly changing. Music has always been a passion of mine, and to be able to use it to inform this particular narrative was a provocative challenge. I have found in Viola and the squad at JuVee the perfect co-conspirators dedicated to telling the types of stories that entertain while contributing to the larger cultural conversation."

Todd's credits include co-writing Barbershop and his spec screenplay One Nation. He did a rewrite on Bad Boys 2. He's also developing feature D-Town. He's repped by Gersh, Principato Young and Mark Temple.

"In the tradition of ABC's Fresh Off the Boat and Black-ish, The Zipcoders offers a compelling and comical take on a family dealing with rapidly changing cultural attitudes," said JuVee head of TV Andrew Wang, who will also exec produce. "This is a show about following your own path, and it's a love letter to all the musical and artistic trailblazers who dared to be different and shifted the paradigm."

The Zipcoders marks JuVee Productions' second sale this development season via their overall deal with Murder producers ABC Studios. The duo also set up Headgames at ABC. The company is repped by CAA.

"The Zipcoders is near and dear to my heart. Viola and I love what Marshall Todd put on the page — the world, the characters and a fun-loving take on music, relationships, dreams and family," Tennon said. "Over our conference room door is etched 'Dream Big. Dream Fierce,' and this show really underlines that ethos."

Family comedies continue to be in high demand this development season as broadcast networks look for more inclusive fare to reflect parts of society that are not being depicted on the small screen. For ABC's part, the Disney-owned network has found success with shows such as Fresh Off the Boat, Black-ish and, most recently, Speechless.

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