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Interview with Jamey Giddens, Creator
and Writer of "Ambitions" on OWN 10/17/19
I interviewed Jamey by email.
He graduated from Southern Arkansas University in Mass
Communications - the same program, in the same school that
I'm now (in 2000). We've been chatting off and on for years
on Facebook. It's so great that he's created this awesome
show. Our Mass Comm Professor is very proud of him, as
everyone is at SAU.
1. Suzanne: Take us through your
writing process....how did you come up with the idea for the
show and its characters?
Jamey: Prolific film and
television producer Will Packer had wanted to do a soap
opera set in Atlanta for a few years. When we met, he shared
his vision of a steamy soap that explored the city's
political intrigue. I went home and created the character of
Mayor Evan Lancaster, then his ice queen wife Stephanie, her
former best friend-turned-rival Amara and so on. Each
character led to a new one. Eventually, I ended up with
five interconnected families: the wealthy, African American
Carlisle legal dynasty; the Lancasters, a working class black
family who produced a popular politician; the upper middle
class Hughes, a pair of earnest-yet-flawed lawyers; the
Purifoys, a conservative pharmaceutical family at odds with
the Carlisles; and the Trujillos, a striving Latinx family.
2. Suzanne: What was Will Packer's contribution to the
creation of the show?
Jamey: Will was involved in
every aspect of creating and producing "Ambitions". He's a
very hands-on producer who has an uncanny knack for knowing
what African American females are looking for in scripted
content. He read every draft of the story bible, the
outlines, scripts, et al., providing notes and input that
made the material pop. He was instrumental in casting our
stellar ensemble and securing our place on the Oprah Winfrey
Network (OWN). I could not ask for a better person to
3. Suzanne: Is the show's writing
process more like a daytime soap or a primetime show (since
the daytime soap process seems very different)?
Jamey: I was lucky to be able to bring veteran daytime
television writers Michele Val Jean and Susan Dansby onboard
"Ambitions". No one understands the importance of crafting
character-driven serialized drama like soap writers. Our
Season 1 showrunner Kevin Arkadie came from primetime and
was a great resource in helping us to tailor the series for
nighttime, so I'd say it was a marriage of daytime and
4. Suzanne: How much were you
involved with casting the show? Take us through that if you
Jamey: I was very involved in the casting
process, as were my fellow executive producers Will Packer,
Kevin Arkadie, Sheila Ducksworth, Carla Gardini and our
pilot director Benny Boom. Many of the biggest names in
Black Hollywood auditioned for our main six roles. I fought
most hard for Robin Givens. She was born to play Stephanie
Carlisle Lancaster. Essence Atkins is the perfect contrast
to Robin. They really are fire and ice. I tease them that
they're my modern day equivalent to Joan Collins and Linda
Evans on the original "Dynasty". Brian White had worked with
Will, Sheila and Kevin before on various projects. They
assured me he'd be perfect for Evan, and they didn't steer me
wrong. He electrifies every scene he's in. Will Packer said
he wanted our vampy Bella Tru character to be a real problem
for Evan. Erica Page brought that vision to life seamlessly
when she tested opposite Brian. Brely Evans has truly proven
to be our breakout star as Rondell, the no-nonsense boss
lady at Thelma's Place. The OWN audience really loves her.
The pivotal role of Titus was arguably our most difficult to
cast. Kendrick Cross read the part at the first table read
and wowed us with his chemistry with Essence and Robin. We
decided to give him the part then and there.
Suzanne: How many episodes will there be in the first
6. Suzanne: Now that you've
been through so much of the show and its airing, is there
anything that you would go back and change or do
Jamey: There's always things you wish
you could have done differently, but I am insanely proud of
the show you're seeing right now. In Season 2, I hope to
delve deeper into our characters, relationships and
backstory to balance out all the juicy, shocking moments.
7. Suzanne: I know you're very active in social media.
How has the response been for you online?
show has been received extremely well on social media. We
consistently trend on Twitter during airings. Countless
Facebook fan groups have sprung up. Dozens of YouTube and
Instagram vloggers post hilarious recaps each week. It's
always fun to log in on Tuesday nights and get an instant
reaction to what the fans think.
8. Suzanne: I
appreciate how you take many soap tropes and turn them
around. As a longtime soap viewer, was that something that
you decided to do?
Jamey: I am an unapologetic soap
fan. The most beloved primetime series of the Peak TV era
all borrowed the character-driven, heavily serialized
storytelling model first employed by Iran Phillips and her
proteges Bill Bell and Agnes Nixon. I refuse to ever think
of "soap" as a dirty word and was extremely lucky to find
A-list partner like Will Packer who encouraged me to embrace
the genre in my storytelling.
9. Suzanne: How did you
choose which character to get shot right before the hiatus?
Jamey: Will Packer actually pitched Senior's death
to me. I was initially resistant, because I'm a fan of my
own show, and I love Senior! However, when I thought about
what the character's death would mean for Rondell, Stephanie,
and especially Evan, I was sold. You will see the Lancasters
in a totally different light following the death of their
family's patriarch. It brings out the humanity in Stephanie
and causes Evan to man up. It also sets up a great umbrella
story as Amara will vow to help solve the murder of her new
friend Rondell's father.
10. Suzanne: Do you know
yet if you're going to have a second season? (and if so, for
how many episodes?)
Jamey: We haven't heard about a
second season yet. All I can say is, it's super important
for viewers to watch the show live, or within three days of
the initial airing. That will help us keep telling these
stories for years to come.
11. Suzanne: Do you have
any other projects that you're working on as well (or is
this your sole focus)? Or other ideas you might want to try
in the future?
Jamey: I have a few other ideas
percolating. Stay tuned!
12. Suzanne: Being on
Oprah's network, did you get to meet her? If so, what was
that like? (And I'm so jealous if you did!)
have not met Ms. Winfrey in person, but we've been on video
conference calls together. I know people overuse this
phrase, but it's surreal. I grew up watching her transform
television by following her instincts and committing to her
intention. I've watched her in "The Color Purple" and "The
Women of Brewster Place" more times than I can count. It is
a privilege I don't take lightly to create a show for
arguably the most powerful, influential woman in media.
13. Suzanne: Do you have a favorite character on the
show (Mine is Rondell)?
Jamey: To borrow from the
late great Agnes Nixon, they are all my children! There are
flashes of my personality and quirks in all the characters.
Stephanie's bratty, spoiled, impulsive side is something my
cousins would tell you they witnessed growing up [Laughs].
Rondell's fierce determination to protect her family and her
legacy makes her the most like the women in my family. I
absolutely love penning Bella's every outrageous stunt. I
see her as a Latinx Erica Kane. Amara is who I want to be
when a grow up; a thoughtful, principled human who actually
regrets her past mistakes and tries to make amends. Greg
Peters, played by Gino Anthony Pesi, is a great antihero.
Then there are Stephen and Irene, Lori and Carly...See, I
told ya. They're all my children!
Finally, when you used to watch shows like "Dallas,"
"Dynasty" et al. did you usually pull for the good guys or
the bad guys? Or did it vary depending on the show?
Jamey: I always rooted for the villains! [Laughs] I'm the
guy who watches "The Devil Wears Prada" and thinks Meryl
Streep is the long-suffering heroine having to endure an
assistant who exists to make it difficult for her to achieve
her fabulous ambitions.
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