Scandal scion Shonda Rhimes may reign supreme on Thursday nights, but shows featuring Black casts are still rare on primetime TV. However, a growing number of Black filmmakers and writers are leveraging the Web to gain access to the boob tube big leagues.
Over the last few months, several Web series creators have signed deals with entities from HBO to Comedy Central. “YouTube leveled the playing field,” Numa Perrier, co-founder of Black&Sexy TV, explains. Her company recently partnered with HBO to develop their popular show, The Couple, for the network. “The Internet has helped solve the problem of isolation. Now it’s abundantly clear that, not only is there an international audience, but they are willing to come enjoy our content and be part of our community.”
So who are the Web spinners to watch?
Who That? Lena Waithe, creator of Hello Cupid & TWENTIES, writer on Fox’s Bones, producer of Dear White People (in theaters October 17).
How She Got Famous: Although she has worked with some of the industry’s most powerful people during her eight years in the biz, Waithe made a name for herself with her take on the Internet hit, “Sh*t Girls Say.” After watching the video, the Chicago native decided to write “Sh*t Black Girls Say,” which got Hollywood’s attention. “I realized that I had a power that I wasn’t aware of. I don’t think I would have ever known that if “Sh*t Black Girls Say” hadn’t gone viral and opened up a couple doors for me.” The video got more than 11 million views and launched Waithe’s foray into Web content.
Signature Style: Waithe describes her style as uniquely personal. She draws on her own experiences, and those around her, for her material. “When you write something that is personal, that’s the thing that always strikes a chord.”
Brothers With No Game
Who That? Mas Manima, Leon Mayne, Henry Oladele, and Paul Samuel, known collectively as Brothers With No Game.
How They Got Famous: These London-based bruvs mined their life experience to create the award-winning blog “Brothers With No Game” in 2010. When a producer approached them to turn their dating mishaps into a show a year later, the group jumped at the chance. “In the U.K. we don’t really have that many shows with people of color,” Mayne explains, noting the crew had no filmmaking experience before diving headfirst into their show. Despite their inexperience, the BWNG were confident the idea would be a hit because TV shows featuring Black folks in the U.K. are few and far between. “We knew that when we brought this out people would want it to be on television, even if that wasn’t our aim.”
Big Deal: In 2014, Brothers With No Game made the leap to TV, inking a deal to air the popular series, which has been viewed more near 850,000 times and has upwards of 16,000 subscribers on YouTube, on London Live.
Watch Out Now: BWNG has big plans. In addition to working on two new shows, A Day With Daddy and Couples Therapy, the brothers are also building a platform for other content creators in the U.K. “It’s very difficult to have your ideas come to life via TV, especially if you’re a person of color,” Mayne says of why his group has chosen to launch BWNG TV. “We are creating a platform of not just ourselves, but other content creators. It’s a way of giving back to people that have supported us.”
Azie Mira Dungey
Who That? Azie Mira Dungey, creator, Ask A Slave; staff writer, NBC’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
How She Got Famous: Dungey fell in love with the stage as a teen and studied acting at NYU. After graduation, she spent time working on theater productions around Washington D.C., before moving to Los Angeles to study with the world-renowned improv group The Groundlings. Dungey’s time in Hollywood made her want to explore the acting scene there, but there was only one problem: she didn’t have a sizzle reel. After cracking friends up with stories about her time playing a slave at George Washington’s historic Mount Vernon estate, Dungey decided to turn her experience into a web series. The show, Ask A Slave, debuted in 2013 and quickly racked up nearly 2 million views. “Within a week of putting it up, I was on NPR,” Dungey says, still surprised how quickly it took off.
Signature Style: As Ask A Slave showed, Dungey loves to mix comedy with a dash of seriousness. “I always like to find the humor in everyday life,” she explains. “But I like when humor has a point of view.”
Big Deal: Though Ask A Slave quickly became a media sensation, Dungey wasn’t sure the web series would advance her career. It wasn’t until Salon ran an article listing Dungey as one of the 10 Black female comedians ready for Saturday Night Live that things started to change. “I got a call from SNL about auditioning, and I ended up signing with the two agents: one was for acting, and one was for writing.”
Watch Out Now: Dungey didn’t land a spot on SNL, but she did get a writing gig on the NBC comedy Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, which will debut this fall. It’s a feat Dungey never thought possible. “I did not see female characters that were like me, or had my point of view, especially in comedy,” she says. “I’m so happy that is changing.”
Who That? Chaz Miller, Cameron Miller, Amanuel Richards, Jerome “Rome” Green, Mike Anthony, and Daunte “Tay” Dier, collectively known as Dormtainment
How They Got Famous: After meeting in college, the Dormtainment crew took to social media in 2009 to share clips of their eclectic brand of comedy.When they started getting hundreds of comments on their videos, the group knew they were onto something. “We all wanted to start a business or a non-profit for kids, but we had to have profit for a non-profit,” Green says. The group tried their hand at a number of ventures, including club promotion, but nothing worked. “At the time we were like, ‘Let’s take what we do naturally and make it business.’” Their gamble paid off. Their video “Straight Out Of Dunwoody” was featured on The Today Show and Fox News, and after consistently churning out weekly content, Dormtainment now boasts nearly 730,000 YouTube subscribers and their videos have garnered a massive 93 million views.
Signature Style: Dormtaiment’s influences include everything from ‘90s sitcoms like “Martin” to Wes Anderson films — and it shows in their hilarious clips. “We do it all,” the men state, talking all at once. “We have different mindsets and everyone brings a different opinion to the group.”
Big Deal: After building a massive online presence, Dormtainment signed a deal with Comedy Central to create an original web series titled “6 Guys, 1 Car,” documenting their move from Atlanta to Los Angeles.
Watch Out Now: While they’re itching to make the leap to TV, the Dormtainment crew is content to wait on the perfect deal. “A lot of people have actually approached us,” they explain. “We’re just making sure that everything we do is definitely a part of our brand and that’s it’s just great work.”