VH1 has morphed numerous times over the years to stay relevant.
Once a haven for music videos, the channel dabbled in “Behind the Music” documentaries, pre-Twitter snarky “Pop Up Videos” and “I Love the [fill in the blank]” pop culture shows. Then the network hit gold a few years back with what it dubbed “celebreality,” helping resurrect the likes of Hulk Hogan, Danny Bonaduce and most famously, Flavor Flav. In fact, his “Flavor of Love” series became so popular, they spawned a comical number of spinoffs.
But VH1 has been in a ratings slump lately as its reality-show slate has felt tired and palyed out. Meanwhile, VH1 executives watched sister stations MTV (”Jersey Shore,” “Teen Mom”) and BET (”The Game”) grab the ratings gold the past year.
So VH1 is not only bringing back “Pop Up Video” and “Behind the Music,” but it’s trying what TV Land and AMC have succeeded in doing recently: scripted shows.
Its first big gamble is “Single Ladies,” a relationships drama set in Atlanta starring Stacey Dash (”Clueless”) and LisaRay McCoy (”All of Us”). Queen Latifah is also one of the executive producers. And yes, the title is a play off the famous Beyonce song.
It debuts tonight at 9 p.m. with a two-hour movie that did so well in VH1 focus groups across the country that the network commissioned ten regular season episodes.
“It’s like entering a new frontier,” said Jeff Olde, a VH1 executive producer. “This is definitely one of our biggest bets. It felt like not being in the game, we were missing a real opportunity to connect with our audience in new creative ways.”
He felt shows have been done enough in Los Angeles and New York. “Atlanta,” Olde said, “felt like a bold, fresh, very current territory for us.” The financial incentives made it an easy call to shoot the show as well as fictionally base it there. “The city itself makes a great character.”
Indeed, the show is a love letter to the city, with lush cinematography of Buckhead, Midtown and the downtown skyline. The pilot was shot heavily around the Terminus building.
During the show tonight, Dash’s character Val breaks up with an Atlanta Hawks player and opens a high-end clothing boutique in Buckhead. McCoy plays Keisha, a blunt, confident single woman whose past as a music video dancer haunts her. Charity Shea is a white woman who cheats on her loving black husband by secretly dating the mayor. The trio spends plenty of time talking about their relationship problems and making dopey mistakes that will come back to bite them in the rears.
Executive producer Stacy Littlejohn has mixed feelings when the show is compared to “Sex and the City.” “It’s a compliment in a way but some people will automatically hate it, too,” she said. “I get very nervous when people use that comparison. I’m not trying to be ‘Sex and the City.’ ”
The original script, she said, didn’t have a particular city in mind but Atlanta worked well in the end. One concession: she had to delete a yacht scene.
To add local flavor, the show is salted with appearances by Atlanta celebrities, including Jermaine Dupri, Chilli of TLC and Keri Hilson.
While the show has a heavily African-American cast and feels a bit like “The Game,” Olde is hoping for a diverse audience. “We’re past the race thing,” he said. “We have honest conversations about race. The friendships are multicultural.”
“Single Ladies,” debuts 9 p.m. Monday, May 30 on VH1
By Rodney Ho, firstname.lastname@example.org, AJCRadioTV blog