The love affair between television and music stars is getting personal.
A top artist like Gwen Stefani hired as a singing contest judge for “The Voice”? Old hat. Live TV musicals boasting casts that include Carrie Underwood (The Sound of Music) and Queen Latifah (The Wiz)? With more Broadway-to-TV broadcasts ahead, they’re becoming routine.
But a flurry of announcements is signalling a new direction for some of music’s big names, who are driving projects they want to see made and, in some cases, made about them.
— Mariah Carey is a producer of Mariah’s World, an E! channel docu-series that will follow her on tour and as she plans her wedding to Australian businessman James Packer.
— Nicki Minaj is producing and will appear in Nicki, a scripted comedy inspired by her childhood and now taping for the Freeform channel (formerly ABC Family).
— Curtis Jackson is developing a variety show with A&E Network that will be hosted and produced by the rapper known as 50 Cent.
— Trackers, a music-based game show in development for Spike TV, is produced by Christina Aguilera.
The allure for TV programmers is clear, said Elaine Frontain Bryant, A&E’s executive vice president and head of programming.
“Music connects people, and some of the biggest shows people still gather around, like The Voice, are music-based. It’s a multigenerational kind of programming that can still have an edge,” she said.
Teaming with a recording star like 50 Cent is the sensible way to go.
“We need him. We’re not plugged into the music scene the way he is,” Bryant said. Similarly, she said, the channel’s 2015 Shining a Light: A Concert for Progress on Race in America, succeeded as a “big, epic concert” because it was spearheaded by Pharrell.
Such artists bring “a credibility and legitimacy to our projects,” she said.
For E!, the Carey series is “absolutely bang-on E! strategy,” said Adam Stotsky, its president.
The channel aims to be “the category killer for all things in the pop culture world. Music is in the sweet spot of what E! already stands for,” he said, citing its coverage of shows including the Grammys.
Add a “big, colourful iconic character like Mariah” to the mix, Stotsky said, and it’s what celebrity-loving viewers want from the channel that’s home to such fare as “Keeping Up with the Kardashians.”
The eight-episode Mariah’s World will cover the start of her Sweet Sweet Fantasy tour of the UK, Europe and Africa and promises an “intimate look” at her life and inner circle of family and friends. An air date has not been announced for the series to be shown on E!’s 17 international channels.
At A&E, Jackson’s show, with the working title of “50 Cent Presents,” represents a reconnection with the channel’s roots after a pivot toward reality (Duck Dynasty, Hoarders) and scripted series (Bates Motel).
The series, still being shaped, aims to combine sketches, stand-up comedy, music, magic, dance and celebrity guest appearances that give Jackson’s “A-list friends a chance to show off their lesser-known skills,” the channel said. It could air by year’s end.
“We are definitely leaning a little bit back into our arts and entertainment legacy,” Bryant said. “This could be a fun reimagining of what an arts show could be.”