John Ridley Boards Alicia Keys, 'La La Land' Team's Musical Drama at Showtime

john ridley - Publicity - H 2019
Rocco Ceselin

Oscar winner John Ridley has joined a Showtime musical drama that also counts Alicia Keys and La La Land and Dear Even Hansen songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul as executive producers.

The 12 Years a Slave writer will pen, direct and executive produce the as-yet untitled series, which is set in his hometown of Milwaukee. The premium cable outlet has given a straight-to-series order for the Fox 21 TV Studios project, which was announced in July with a sizable series commitment.

Kyle Jarrow (The SpongeBob Musical) was originally attached to the project as writer. Sources tell The Hollywood Reporter he's no longer involved, with Ridley taking over the writing and directing reins. 

"Having worked with John Ridley many times over the years, I know firsthand how talented and fearless he is both as a writer and director," Showtime Entertainment president Gary Levine said Thursday in a statement. “Combining his dramatic depth with the musical brilliance of Pasek and Paul and Alicia Keys promises a wildly original and entertaining series for Showtime."

The project centers on an emotionally complex family story that spans generations and threatens the fabric of the community in present-day Milwaukee. Ridley will executive produce with Keys, Pasek, Paul, Marc Platt (La La Land, Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert), R.J. Cutler (Nashville) and Adam Siegel (Grease Live). 

"I couldn't be more excited to work not only again with Gary and Showtime, but to also collaborate with the phenomenal talents of Alicia Keys, the team of Pasek and Paul, Marc Platt, and R.J. and Adam as well," said Ridley. "I’m especially grateful for the opportunity to set the series in Milwaukee, and examine the challenges and triumphs of my hometown, a city to which I remain deeply connected."

Ridley is under an overall deal at ABC Studios, which like Fox 21 is part of Disney TV Studios. The Emmy-nominated creator of ABC's American Crime also has a history with Showtime, having created the limited series Guerrilla and the 2005 TV adaptation of Barbershop. He also maintains ties to Milwaukee, having opened the arts and community space No Studios in 2018.

The Showtime drama will mark the second TV series for which Pasek and Paul have written music. The duo also worked on Smash, which was originally developed for Showtime under former head Bob Greenblatt, then moved to NBC when Greenblatt took over the broadcast network. Pasek and Paul's credits also include The Greatest Showman and A Christmas Story Live.

The project joins a Showtime roster that includes Shameless, Billions, Kidding, Black Monday, The Chi, The L Word: Generation Q, Back to Life, Work in Progress, Ray Donovan, City on a Hill and On Becoming a God in Central Florida. The final season of Homeland and the limited series The Good Lord Bird are due to premiere in February; also on the horizon are Halo, Michael Chabon's adaptation of his novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, the limited series Your Honor and the drama Yellowjackets

The Bert Salke-led Fox 21 is behind FX's Pose, Mayans MC and American Crime Story (all with FX Productions); USA's Queen of the South; National Geographic's Genius anthology; and the FX on Hulu pilot The Old Man, starring Jeff Bridges, among others.