The BET Networks’ “Reed Between the Lines” creator, writer and producer Kellie R. Griffin isn’t afraid of Tyler Perry.
I’m sharing that I am afraid of him because he’s friends with the powerful “O” (Oprah Winfrey); I’m convinced that she’ll know if I critique her buddy. But I won’t critique him because I respect an artist who went from living in his car to building a media empire on an outrageous character named Medea. Admit it–no one wants Medea in their gene pool!
Perry’s new film, “Temptation,” is due in theaters on March 29, and he’s an artist whose empire does not crumble on a critic’s whim.
He’s also Teflon-coated when it comes to bad publicity. But he’s also been labeled “very difficult.”
Griffin has survived and flourished, making her bones as Perry’s first showrunner, and I think her ability to handle difficult challenges is linked to geography. She was born in Philadelphia, which is a dangerous, rough and ugly city. It’s not considered as dangerous as the South Side of Chicago, but that’s splitting hairs.
I can share the uncomfortable truth about Philly because I’m a native. Don’t let the Liberty Bell fool you; Philly is not a picturesque city. It’s just slightly better looking than Newark, N.J.
This rant and ascetic critique is to give you a clearer picture of where Griffin escaped from and how she became one of the few television showrunners and creators in Hollywood. The financial rewards and perks are so substantial that it makes you ponder if the profession is legal.
BET ordered 25 episodes of “Reed Between the Lines,” starring Tracee Ellis Ross and Malcolm-Jamal Warner, based on her spec pilot script.
A mere year after that, it premiered to 3.3 million viewers and recently wrapped its second season.
Griffin is a graduate of Howard University (bachelor of science in psychology and a master’s degree in social work). Her first television job was as a receptionist on “The Parkers.” One season later, she was a writer’s assistant.
On “The Parkers” fifth and final season, she was awarded a freelance episode, which allowed her to become a member of the Writers Guild of America, West.
That opportunity led her to write a spec script for Perry. Impressed by her talent, he offered her the position of head writer for his sitcom “House of Payne,” for which she simultaneously managed–via speakerphone–two writers’ rooms in Los Angeles and Atlanta as they wrote more than 100 episodes in less than a year.
Griffin is my new Philly-surviving touchstone.
Amsterdam News: What is your secret?
Kellie R. Griffin: Faith is a very important part of success. When you are starting, you are always walking out on faith.
AmNews: I am listening…expand please?
KG: Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Faith is taking the first step, even when you don’t see the whole staircase,” which is exactly what I’ve been doing since I decided to leave the social work and transition into entertainment.
For the past 13 years–which is how long I’ve been in Los Angeles–my journey has been nothing but positive cliches, including “When one door closes, another one opens.”
Every time I thought the ride was over, something incredible has happened, sometimes in the final hour, to keep it going and make it even more exciting. So I don’t know what’s next, but I’m just enjoying the ride. That’s faith.
AmNews: How did you deal with negative people?
KG: As crazy as it might sound, even with the success I’ve had, I’m still working through not feeling like I’m enough … funny enough, smart enough, creative enough. And it’s not necessarily because of my peers; it’s more something that I put on myself.
Not settling–for lack of a better word–to simply be a Black writer on BET or TV One, but striving to just be a writer who can compete at the level of major networks. And at times, I do feel like I’m on the wrong path. But then something or someone confirms for me that I’m right where I’m supposed to be right now.
AmNews: Perry, in my opinion, is an excellent role model because he has tenacity. What pearls [of wisdom] did you learn working with him in the beginning of his growing television empire?
KG: Fortunately avnd unfortunately, my time with Tyler was difficult. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right?
Initially, it was the blind leading the blind. He had never had a TV show before–or even worked in TV–and I had never been a head writer before.
He knew what he wanted, but not how to execute it properly. And his focus was more on quantity, as opposed to quality, so we weren’t always on the same page as far as how to tell a good story. But at the same time, especially since we shot three episodes a week, I learned how to write exceptionally fast, and I can literally make something out of nothing. Because of his high demands and sometimes outrageous expectations, I was forced to think of new ways to do things, but within a certain budget and other limited resources.
He wanted to keep things “old school” like “Good Times,” “Sanford and Son,” “The Jeffersons,” etc., where entire episodes took place within one set. I hated that at first, but now I know I’m a better writer today because that forced me to not rely on sets to tell my stories, but rather the characters … Although I don’t think he set out to intentionally teach me that lesson. He was just trying to save a few bucks.
AmNews: Wow. Thank you for your honesty. So what did you enjoy about creating “Reed Between the Lines”? How do you keep it fresh?
KG: At this time I’m no longer involved with the day-to-day of “RBTL.” I’m still the creator and still get checks, but I have no input on the show, so keeping it fresh isn’t up to me. But with Tracee Ellis Ross not returning either, the second season will definitely have a new look.
As for what I enjoy most about creating a show, it’s growing and evolving with the characters. In film, you have a beginning, middle and end all within two hours. But in TV, the development is endless … until you get cancelled. But you know what I mean. You can go in any direction as fast or as slow as you’d like because you don’t have to have it all figured out up front–like life.
AmNews: Do you have any film plans? If so, can you share?
KG: I keep trying to write features, but they always end up as pilots because I don’t want them to end. But soon I will write one and make sure it remains a feature.
KG: You’re welcome. And thank you for even wanting me to do this.