The Click Talks to Black & Sexy TV
Welcome to The Click, where we curate the very best of Black entertainment on the InterWebs including digital series, vines and vlogs. Come back every Thursday and catch up on the who’s who and what’s what of alternative entertainment, as guided by writer, producer and Web series creator Kozi Kyles of Myth Lab Entertainment. Think you’ve got a hot project? Find Kozi and tell her about it via @mythlabent. You can also send a message to email@example.com.
There may be some truth to the myth that we Black folks generate heat because Black & Sexy TV, an entertainment and lifestyle network, has been consistently steaming up YouTube since 2011. The channel–co-founded by Dennis Dortch, Numa Perrier, Brian Ali Harding and Jeanine Daniels– offers innovative programming depicting honest, complex and humorous portrayals of Black life, love, and sexuality in flagship series The Couple, RoomieLoverFriends, Hello Cupid, That Guy, Yellow and The Number.
Now with five successful series under their belts and the announcement of a brand new development deal with HBO, the team behind the steam shows no signs of cooling off. I caught up with Dennis Dortch and Numa Perrier, two of the founders and creative minds behind this digital tour de force.
We talked to the duo about their master plans for the brand and how they grew from just seven subscribers to doing deals with cable and Spike Lee.
JET: For those who aren’t familiar, can you share how the Black & Sexy TV team works together?
NUMA PERRIER: Brian Ali Harding and Dennis have been creative partners for many years. They collaborated on A Good Day to be Black & Sexy, a Sundance selection in 2008. That film was kind of a pioneer coming from us Black folks. It really kind of garnered its own cult following. Dennis had the vision for it not to be just a movie, but a brand. Brian is responsible for the aesthetic. Jeanine Daniels is like a little sister, and an amazing writer. She created That Guy, and co-created The Couple with Dennis. She wrote the earliest minisodes. All four of us we just bounce off of each other and look to each other as our own internal quality control. We are four working parts with different strengths that make things go strong.
JET: What brought you to YouTube?
DENNIS DORTCH: In 2011, we thought YouTube wasn’t a place we needed to be. And then we changed our minds. We had all this archived material, but Numa said that we should be putting out content that’s narrative and episodic.
JET: How did you choose which project to launch first?
DENNIS: We actually had a difference in opinion about which series we wanted first. I wanted to do The Number. But Numa wanted to do The Couple on YouTube and she was in it.
NUMA: [overlapping] We definitely butted heads. That’s how we came up with the idea of mixing the two worlds. What if this engagement party overlaps? That’s the way we figured out we’d be able to launch both series at the same time.
JET: No matter what the project, you have a distinct voice and aesthetic? How would you describe it?
DENNIS: I like to think of us as the voice of modern Black people, progressive. I don’t like the word sophisticated so much. Not over the top bougie, but we’re just about being real people. And we’re Black, so we’re automatically sexy. [laughs] When I made the film, and did the title, it was a modern update on the slogan Black is beautiful. Everybody has eyes on us. Everybody wants to be us.
JET: How have you grown the brand and expanded this universe?
NUMA: Well, we started small. We had seven subscribers two years ago. I remember when we released our first minisode of The Couple and we were happy if we got 5,000 views. Dennis and I were sitting at our separate computers, sending individual e-mails to everyone we knew…no mass e-mails. We asked people: please share so it can multiply. We did that for maybe the first three to six months. It was very, very grassroots…one person at a time, making phone calls. We were getting our audience to commit to that. From there, it started taking on its own life.
DENNIS: Fortunately, also A Good Day to be Black & Sexy was playing on Showtime and Netflix. We also had a quasi partnership with Issa Rae. When she would post about our site, more people would discover us.
JET: How did you meet Issa? (Spoiler Alert: Awkwardly)
NUMA: It was a total chance meeting. It was actually destined for us to meet. Issa had blogged about Dennis’s film during the early days of Awkward Black Girl. Dennis had been watching Awkward Black Girl and said “Ahhh, we want to work with this woman.” Dennis wrote to her and said saw you wrote about the film. We didn’t hear back from her, but we ran into her at Irv’s grill…Irv’s is the meet spot for Black people in LA. When we walked in, Issa Rae was standing in line with us. Dennis was really shy and didn’t want to go up to her. I had to be the one who went over to her and said, “Hey, this is Dennis.” She came to our place about a week or so later and he directed an ABG episode.
JET: You’ve been grinding at this for a while. How did you get the development deal with HBO?
NUMA: It came about out of the blue. We were gearing up to move forward with The Couple movie. Dennis got a Facebook message and I got a phone call from an executive at HBO. He said: “I know this is nontraditional, but I couldn’t find an agent for you. I saw your series on YouTube and fell in love. Are you interested in talking?” [laughs] I was thinking: “Are we interested?” HBO has great quality programming and they are known for taking time to get things right. This is a meeting we wanted to take. But it took some time. And along the way, we met Spike Lee at the American Black Film Festival and we ended up working together on his kickstarter project. He learned a lot about Black & Sexy TV. He wanted to know if we had ever taken anything to a network. We told him we were talking to HBO and his eyes lit up because he had great relationships over there. All the pieces started fitting together and now we’re in this development deal.
JET: Can you tell us anything about what’s in the works?
NUMA: We’re in the early stages. We’re writing and that’s pretty much all we can say at this point.
JET: Fair enough. In going from the Web to TV, do you expect any changes to the style or tone of your work?
DENNIS: I think yes and no. We have to learn how to expand the world a little bit. We’re hearing “expand the world,” not for time and length, but for depth. Online, it’s about being brief. We have to twist our minds to figure out how to take something we created in that space very well. How to get beyond something that was five to fifteen minutes. Also, what’s good about HBO is that they want you to do what you want to do. They want fresh voices and something that is truly authentic.
NUMA: It’s refreshing to work with these HBO executives who say they want it to stay the same, but has to increase the depth, and add more layers and more characters. It’s good timing too because our brains were kind of there already trying to make it larger.
JET: Where do you see the brand going?
NUMA: We’re interested in doing more lifestyle content. We have things along the lines and in the genre of talk shows. One of the projects is The Underground, which is basically interviews with people on subways about pop culture. New York is a big fan base for us. We would love to shoot something out there, but that’s later. We’re also into more episodic things, but those are in early development…we’re excited about those things. We have feature films. Dennis has another feature. Do you want to talk about it, Dennis?
DENNIS: It’s something I wanted to do for a long time. We’re building an audience for a reason. We’re looking at having the Black & Sexy brand be mutli-platform: TV, Web, and yes, getting back to our roots filmmaking.
NUMA: We are also taking a look at the business model and figuring out how to have more revenue streams and sustain this. We’ve been successful with crowdfunding, but to expand, we need to figure out how to further monetize. Like having select content that is for pay and trying to eke out a system of monthly subscriptions. We’re excited about that, but it’s a delicate process.
JET: We’ve talked a lot about your episodes and films, but I want to talk a little about your music. I love the way you include it in your episodes and I find myself grooving while I’m watching them. Why is music such a strong part of your brand?
DENNIS: I actually thought I was going to be a music producer, then I starting taking film classes. So I have these great relationships with independent artists. We’ve made music internally and others let us use their music for promotional purposes. I’ve always wanted a record label in a non-traditional sense. I want a family of artists that collaborate and are competitive and yes, we’re thinking of doing that very very soon.
JET: Last question. Is your audience actually all Black and sexy, too? Or do you have a lot of diversity in those who watch you and buy your merchandise?
NUMA: Actually we do. It’s fun when White people get it. We’re celebrating ourselves, and not putting anyone else down. This is giving us something we need to feel good and not excluding anybody. I love when I see someone who isn’t brown wearing one of our T-shirts. [laughs] And Brian is white…
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About Kozi Kyles
Kozi Kyles is a Chicago-based content creator and senior-level marketing executive who co-founded Myth Lab Entertainment. Among her buzzworthy projects is the Video Vixen series, a send-up of African American female stereotypes in the media, and she is the mastermind behind “Human Resources,” an award-winning Webisode series featuring comic Lil Rel. Subscribe to her YouTube channel and follow her via Twitter at @mythlabent.