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Tracee Ellis Ross is a fan of television. She was a devotee of HBO’s In Treatment and loves Vince Gilligan’s Breaking Bad and HBO’s vampire drama True Blood.
“Television is fantastic right now,” she says. “Do I see a lot of faces that represent me specifically? No. And it’s way less than before, which I find strange. It’s weirdly disproportionate in a way that it never was before.”
That will change – slightly – with Tuesday’s premiere of BET’s Reed Between the Lines, a half-hour comedy about a happily married couple living an upper middle-class life in suburban New York City with their three children. She’s a successful psychologist with two older children from a pervious relationship. And he’s an NYU English professor who becomes an online lecturer so that she can go to work and he can home school their youngest child.
It is the latest series in BET’s effort to build a scripted slate that began last January with the record-breaking premiere of The Game, which the network resurrected with original showrunners Salim and Mara Brock Akil more than a year after it was canceled by the CW. A second comedy, Let’s Stay Together, was launched out of The Game. Both shows return in January. And the lineup helped to power BET to its best ratings in network history last season.
Ellis Ross is the daughter of legendary singer Diana Ross and music manager Robert Ellis Silberstein, and was raised in both African American and Jewish cultures. Warner rose to fame as a child actor playing only son Theo Huxtable on The Cosby Show. Both actors are also executive producers on Reed Between the Lines and they say they were drawn to series because it offers a positive portrayal of African American family life.
“This is one of those shows that whether I were on it or not, I’d want to see back on television,” says Ellis Ross. “It really celebrates the joy of marriage with all of its trials and tribulations.”
“There is so much negativity on television and in life,” adds Warner. “One of my missions in life is to show that being positive does not have to be corny. You can be positive and still be hip.”
BET has ordered 22 episodes of Reed Between the Lines, which will air Tuesdays at 10 p.m. The series offers plenty of opportunities for celebrity guest turns; in the first episode Robin Givens plays a sex addict who seeks counsel from Ellis Ross’ psychologist. Subsequent episodes will feature Eddie George, Romeo Miller (previously known at Lil’Romeo) and Los Angeles Lakers star Ron Artest (a.k.a. Metta World Peace) playing a basketball star with anger management issues. Anna Marie Horsford (Amen, The Shield) and Melissa De Sousa (The Best Man) co-star.
For BET, the series represents an investment in original scripted programming at a time when there is a dearth of African American headlined series and virtually none on broadcast television. It is an attempt to fill a yawning void on TV at a time when the population at large is becoming more multi-cultural.
“We’re filling a certain void on television,” says Warner.
“Television changed to address one particular group of people. That was the biggest critique,” observes Horsford, who has been acting since the late 1970s. “I think we need to see all of these different classes of people. All of them exist. At the same time, we were not led by what we saw on TV because before 1975-76 there were no black people on TV at all. And we still lived our lives.”
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