Speaking Saturday at the TV: Meet the Buyers panel at the 2019 Produced By conference, sponsored by The Hollywood Reporter, Showtime scripted programming executive vp Amy Israel revealed that the series originally was written with two white men as the stars, rather than headliners Don Cheadle, Andrew Rannells and Regina Hall.
Israel said Showtime bought Black Friday as a pitch in 2011, but after the release of The Wolf of Wall Street, which covered the same material and tone, and the network’s acquisition of Billions, the project was pushed back. Years later, executive producer Seth Rogen expressed interest in the script and it was brought back to life, but with some big changes.
“The show was developed as a two-hander, when it first developed, and it was developed, honestly, for two white comedians,” Israel said during the panel, held at Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank. “We looked at it and said, “This isn’t really interesting right now, it’s not really looking at the ’80s and reflecting back on what it means in terms of diversity and inclusion and any of that.”
She continued, “So it evolved and we got Andrew Rannells involved, we got Don Cheadle and we got Regina Hall, and it became a three-hander,” noting how important it is for producers and executives to listen to and look at the world around them, especially in the #MeToo era.
“That was a great indication of the show, how it was originally conceived in 2011 and wasn’t interesting years later,” said Israel, as her team attempted to figure out, “How do you flip it and make it a show that is balls-out funny and ridiculous, and at the same time talked about what it meant to be a person of color on Wall Street in the ’80s, what it meant to be a woman in the ’80s — which maybe isn’t all that different from today — and do it with a searing sense of humor, but also a social criticism?”
Elsewhere on the panel, which was moderated by Tracey Edmonds and included NBC alternative programming executive vp Jenny Groom, eOne chief strategy officer Peter Micelli, Legendary TV president Nick Pepper and Fox president of entertainment Michael Thorn, the group discussed what they look for when buying shows, increased competition for content and Netflix’s impact on the industry.
Speaking about the value of traditional TV over the streamers, Thorn said, “Between Thanksgiving and TCAs, which was at the beginning of February, Netflix released 70 original things. If you think about, OK, around Christmas, what were the big things? Bird Box, OK, that was a cool movie, a big success, a show or two, but then there are like 67 other things that you haven’t heard of. I think at Showtime, NBC and, for us at Fox, most people know what we have on the air because we’re trying to create a broad platform.”