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Oprah Winfrey’s new TV show, Greenleaf, about the family at the center of a Memphis megachurch, on which she herself plays a recurring role, premiered to an enthusiastic audience at the Tribeca Film Festival last week. After audibly reacting to the various twists and turns in the first episode, audience members could be heard making plans to watch the series, which premieres on Winfrey’s OWN in June, as they left the event.
Greenleaf, from Lost and Six Feet Under alum Craig Wright, is the latest drama for the once-struggling cable network and the first scripted series at OWN not produced by Tyler Perry. In light of the excitement surrounding the show’s New York debut, the day before Greenleaf was renewed for its second season, The Hollywood Reporter has compiled all of the must-know information about the series into this helpful cheat sheet. Check back for updates.
Lost and Six Feet Under alum Craig Wright created and serves as a writer and executive producer on the Lionsgate series, with The Book of Negroes‘ Clement Virgo, a fellow Greenleaf executive producer, directing the pilot.
Keith David: Plays Bishop James Greenleaf, the family patriarch and charming but manipulative leader of Greenleaf World Ministries
Lynn Whitfield: Plays Lady Mae Greenleaf, the matriarch and powerful first lady of the Greenleaf church
Merle Dandridge: Plays Grace Greenleaf, the family’s estranged daughter and a former preacher, who returns home after fleeing years earlier
Desiree Ross: Plays Grace’s teenage daughter, Sophia Greenleaf
Lamman Rucker: Plays Jacob Greenleaf, the eldest son of the Greenleaf family
Kim Hawthorne: Plays Kerissa Greenleaf, Jacob’s strong-willed, controlling wife
Deborah Joy Winans: Plays Charity Greenleaf-Saterlee, the youngest daughter of the Greenleaf family
Tye White: Plays Kevin Satterlee, Charity’s husband
Oprah Winfrey: Set to recur as Mavis McCready, Lady Mae’s sister and Grace’s aunt; also executive produces the series
Gregory Alan Williams: Set to recur as Robert ‘Mac’ McCready, Grace’s uncle
The hourlong drama series, the first and second seasons of which will consist of 13 episodes each, focuses on the powerful Greenleaf family and their Memphis megachurch, the center of the community for its thousands of predominantly African-American members who attend services there. Beneath their devout exterior though, the Greenleaf family members are concealing scandalous secrets and lies that start to be revealed in the premiere episode. Dandridge’s Grace Greenleaf serves as viewers’ entry point into the family as she returns home for a somber event and quickly feels compelled to stay longer.
As for the family name, Wright explained following the show’s Tribeca Film Festival premiere that “Greenleaf” has multiple connotations. “There are Bible verses that say if you follow money you will suffer, but if you follow God you’ll flourish like a green leaf. That’s definitely floating around in there,” he said. “Also, the notion of green as money is floating around in there.” Later, Wright said there’s a defining image he associates with the series: “I’ve always felt like this show was Grace coming in and just sweeping it all clean, and then the Bishop stepping forward and saying, ‘Wait! Look!’ and then you see this little four-leaf clover. Be careful what you destroy, because there is something tender and green here that wants to live.”
Although the first season was filmed in Atlanta, Greenleaf is set in Memphis, Tenn.
Greenleaf is set to premiere on OWN at 10 p.m. ET/PT on June 21 and 22 in a two-night event. Prior to that, the show had its world premiere at New York’s Tribeca Film Festival on April 20. The day after that event, where the series’ first episode was enthusiastically received by the Tribeca audience, OWN announced the show had been renewed for a 13-episode second season. The Oprah Winfrey- and Discovery-owned OWN gave Greenleaf a straight-to-series order last July, with the regular castmembers and Winfrey’s role announced in September.
An initial trailer (above) was released on March 17 with the extended trailer (below) released on May 18.
The project, the first original series on OWN not from The Haves and Have Nots producer Tyler Perry, comes as the network continues its push into scripted fare, moving on from its “struggling” beginning.
“When I started this network five years ago, every word that was written, the narrative for OWN was ‘struggling, struggling, struggling network,’” Winfrey said in a panel discussion after Greenleaf‘s Tribeca premiere. “Our team got together and had the dream of being able to do this kind of scripted television. That was really founded, because my friend Tyler Perry called me and said, ‘Listen, I can write a series for you, and I can direct it, and I can do it cheaply, and I can help you start the idea of doing scripted.’ So it is because of the foundation that Tyler laid for us at the network that we’re able to move into a Greenleaf and, to come later this fall, a Queen Sugar [which reteams Winfrey, who will appear in a recurring role, with her Selma director Ava DuVernay].”
Greenleaf came about after Wright told Winfrey, whom he’d met when she was working on Belief, that he used to be a preacher. “As a joke I said, ‘Was it a black church?’” Winfrey relayed to the audience at the Tribeca panel. “And we had this conversation about church and what the black church in particular means in our community. We started going back and forth about it and he said, ‘That sounds like a series.’ I said, ‘I think it is.’”
Wright went on to say that the show, which he pointed out is “not a soap and it’s not a sermon,” takes faith seriously. “It doesn’t seem silly, it doesn’t seem laughable or foolish, it actually seems deeply grounded and important and integral to the lives of the characters, so you actually take their struggles seriously,” he said. But the writer, who also created ABC’s Dirty Sexy Money, said Greenleaf continues a theme in his work of the danger of greed. “I’ve been pretty much saying the same thing over and over again on television,” said Wright. “Money is dangerous and you should live for the heart and the soul, and I just think it’s a message that needs to be said all the time.”
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