Interview with Jamey Giddens of "Ambitions" on OWN - Primetime TV Show Articles From The TV MegaSite

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By Suzanne

Jamey Giddens of Ambitions

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 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 collaborate with.

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 primetime styles.

4. Suzanne: How much were you involved with casting the show? Take us through that if you can.

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.

5. Suzanne: How many episodes will there be in the first season?

Jamey: 18

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 differently?

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?

Jamey: The 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 an 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!)

Jamey: I 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!

14. Suzanne: 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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