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Malcolm-Jamal Warner and Tracee Ross Ellis talk about BET’s new ‘Reed Between the Lines’

Malcolm Jamal-Warner stars in "Reed Between the Lines," debuting Oct. 11. CREDIT: BET

Malcolm-Jamal Warner stars in "Reed Between the Lines," debuting Oct. 11. CREDIT: BET

In 1984, NBC debuted “The Cosby Show,” a comedy about a well adjusted upper-class black family that became a runaway hit fueled by the charms of Bill Cosby and his fictional brood. The groundbreaking show revived the sitcom genre and cemented NBC’s reputation as a comedy haven for years to come.

BET’s mission in 2011 isn’t quite the same but executives are hoping a new ”Cosby”-like sitcom “Reed Between the Lines” starring Malcolm-Jamal Warner (Theo on “Cosby”) and Tracee Ellis Ross (”Girlfriends”) will further obliterate the network’s old reputation as that booty-shaking music video channel. The show, shot at Turner Studios in Midtown, debuts Tuesday, October 11, at 10 p.m., with a second new episode right afterwards at 10:30 p.m.

“I can say we didn’t set to do an update on ‘Cosby,’ ” said Charlie Jordan Brookins, BET vice president of original programming, “What we set out to do is create a modern-day African-American family.”

Warner, in a phone interview last month during a lunch break from production, agreed: “We want to create the Cosby universality, that family love environment that transcends race.”

Ross plays a therapist, Carla Reed, happily married to Alex, an on-line professor played by Warner. Carla had twins  with her first husband but divorced. She eventually married Alex and they had their own daughter. “It’s a blended family but a blended family that works,” Jordan Brookins said.

When BET approached Ross about the idea of her character being in the mental health field, she was immediately intrigued and signed on. “I had created a self-help workshop for African-American teen girls and was going around the country,” Ross said. “I’d ask the girls what they watch on TV and most of them watch BET. I’d ask why. They said those people look like us.”

When Warner came to audition, Ross said, “it was like the clouds parted and our divine partnership occurred! There was a really good flow. It was the first time I understood who Dr. Carla Reed was. I got to feel her in my body. It’s a beautiful relationship between two people who respect, support and accept each other.”

“It was instant rapport,” Warner added. The pair, who had never worked together before, also signed on as executive producers.

“It’s a wonderful experience to have a voice in the process,” Ross said.

“I’m grateful to be part of this type of show,” Warner said. “We all keep saying it’s what television needs.”

The comedy is old school, with cute kids, quick banter and a laugh track. It’s not brash or overly broad. In the episode sent to me for screening, Carla feels insecure about her own sexiness when a pretty patient with a sex addiction meets her husband. Warner, his sharp comic timing honed by decades of experience, plays Alex warm, sexy and confident. Ross gives Carla a grounded presence but works in plenty of physical humor.

“Reed Between the Lines” is BET’s third original scripted show in its current line-up. Last year, BET picked up “The Game” from the ashes of the CW, which had canceled the show in 2009. BET also launched a new relationship-oriented comedy “Let’s Stay Together.” The two shows, also shot in Atlanta, brought in boffo ratings and were renewed. (Ratings did slip on both shows throughout the season last year so it’ll be interesting to see how things play out this fall when the shows return.)

“The Game,” Jordan Brookins noted, “was the game changer for us.”

“Reed Between the Lines” is BET’s first original family show, though the network now airs plenty of older sitcoms with family themes such as “The Bernie Mac Show” and “Everybody Hates Chris.”

BET still draws a primarily black audience but Warner said he and Ross “are very consciously bringing our brands to BET and reaching out to like-minded individuals who may not have been a BET watcher. We know how some people feel about the network. Things are changing. Come give our show a chance. Give the network a chance.”

Warner is proud of his “Cosby” legacy and still feels a bit battered by his time at the UPN in the late 1990s starring in “Malcolm & Eddie” on a network that once aired a comedy called “Homeboys in  Outer Space.”  “That show makes us all cringe,” said Ross, who said she did have a positive experience on the network with “Girlfriends,” which aired from 2000 to 2008.

Neither actor said they’ve gotten to see much of Atlanta outside the studio and their hotel rooms given the very tight schedules BET places them on. “I feel like we’re doing 700 episodes a week,” Ross said. But she wasn’t complaining. Since time is money, cable networks usually do episodes in three or four days instead of a week for major networks and will sometimes juggle multiple episodes at once. It’s a cost-efficient model Tyler Perry follows for his TBS sitcoms.

TV PREVIEW

“Reed Between the Lines,” 10 p.m. Tuesdays, BET

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45 comments Add your comment

Lisa

October 10th, 2011
1:07 pm

It’s Malcolm-Jamal Warner…. not Jamal-Warner

[...] more Malcolm-Jamal Warner and Tracee Ross Ellis talk about BET’s new ‘Reed Between the Lines’ at Radio & TV [...]

Pebblebeach

October 10th, 2011
2:36 pm

I will be watching and hoping it entertains me so that I can look forward to watching successive episodes. Unfortunately, my kids are in bed by 10:00 p.m….so will have to record for them to watch later…

Maybe, if the show is successful, which I hope it will be, BET may consider imrpoving upon its time slot for our family to watch together.

Brown Eyed Girl!

October 10th, 2011
2:46 pm

@Pebblebeach, Malcolm-Jamal Warner was on TJMS this morning and said the show will on late Tuesday, but it will also replay I believe on Sundays around 8 so that families can see it.

BG

October 10th, 2011
2:49 pm

I won’t watch that junk.

joyfollows

October 10th, 2011
3:05 pm

I think it’s going to be a great show! Looking forward to watching it! I’ll have my DVR set.

Ms.All American Black Sister!

October 10th, 2011
3:07 pm

BET, once again you have plugged into something African Americans can enjoy such as The Cosby Show. I truly do believe that BET has hit a home run with this one. Right out of the ball park. And for all of you who think that the Black man or woman has no place in Hollywood, just sat back, take note, and watch this. Thank you THEO and Tracee

She-She

October 10th, 2011
3:16 pm

I love Tracee Ellis Ross. So glad she is back on t.v. I am looking forward to this new show. Thanks alot BET.

Mercedes S.

October 10th, 2011
3:18 pm

Hello. strangers…

mamaj

October 10th, 2011
3:26 pm

Looking forward to seeing it. There is so much “real” TV trash on, till it’s making me ill

Shaun

October 10th, 2011
3:35 pm

Why do so many African-American sitcoms have to use a play on words…”Reed” between the lines. It’s been way overdone with all the Tyler Perry sitcoms and movies. Sounds like a rehash of all the WB/BET/TV One sitcoms. Next.

Jimmy from Marietta

October 10th, 2011
3:37 pm

Like both actors; love Ms Ross. Her figure is outstanding. Nice to have her back to fill the void (her figure left) when Girlfriends went off the air–LOL. :) Seriously though, her beauty and brains should work well with “Theo”.

Tunishia

October 10th, 2011
3:37 pm

Mr. Waner and Mrs. Ross so talnted. I cant wait to see this show. Im sure it be bless.

Jimmy from Marietta

October 10th, 2011
3:38 pm

You might say that her figure is ASStounding!

Malcolmlookalike

October 10th, 2011
3:39 pm

I really hope that this is a family show without all the sex and profanity. It would be nice to be able to watch a show with my family and not have to hold the remote to mute out the garbage or change the channel because of all the sex scenes!

Kevin

October 10th, 2011
3:40 pm

“And for all of you who think that the Black man or woman has no place in Hollywood”

Seriously?

You, my dear, are at the very heart and soul of the problem. Doesn’t it get tiring always playing a victim?

Fan Man

October 10th, 2011
3:47 pm

Such a UNREAL show. Every one knows an Afro household is probably going to have a Single MoM and a man on the side passing through every now and then.

Pamela

October 10th, 2011
3:51 pm

I will watch this show. We need good shows on t.v. now. I’m am so over the trash shows that are on t.v. for the most part…I’m so sick and tired of Kardashian tramps! I’m ready to watch quality t.v. :)

beebee

October 10th, 2011
3:53 pm

I don’t have BET.

Back 2 Bama

October 10th, 2011
4:01 pm

@ Fan Man what you just referred to is a stereotype and you just made a stupid assumption…. It may be your reality or how you mother raised you; however, it certainly does not apply to every household in the Afro American community.

MP

October 10th, 2011
4:02 pm

Bill Cosby would never hear of it on BET!

RadioLady

October 10th, 2011
4:03 pm

This is going to be Great!

cosby’s other son

October 10th, 2011
4:41 pm

i truly hope the show does well and can substantively change the bet brand.

that being said, i also hope ms. ross has gotten some surgery on those eyes. seeing the bulging whites of her eyes around her irises has always spooked me and sometimes makes it hard to understand exactly what she’s attempting to convey as an actor at any given moment.

Not the Majority

October 10th, 2011
4:42 pm

Fan Man really? I am not the majority. Married Professional Black woman with a Black husband and two Kids. I hope the show does good. We need positive images in Black community.

cosby’s other son

October 10th, 2011
4:56 pm

i’m curious as to why people even dignify ignorant comments such as fan man’s with replies. you are not going to magically wash away their ignorance no matter how brilliant a post you present!

i doubt the person even really means what they wrote. they’re just putting it out there as fodder to see how many people will bite and get their undergarments [silken, cotton, spandex or otherwise] all twisted in a wedgie-inducing bunch.

Fan Man

October 10th, 2011
6:03 pm

@ cosby’s other son, and you responded to me. lol

Well let’s all just be in denial and stay politically correct.

BET fan

October 10th, 2011
6:17 pm

BET needs more American Gangsta and booty shak’n !

Who wants to see Black folks acting White like in the Cosby Show !

- Euro Style

October 10th, 2011
9:06 pm

[...] find a comfortable way to mix the sexy stuff and the child-centered humor. The bigger flaw in the series, though, may be the lack of a center. In “The Cosby Show,” as buffoonish as his character might [...]

timbo

October 11th, 2011
9:06 am

PLEASE. No more direct responses to Fan Man. Ignore that type and eventually they will hitch up their trailer and head on back to the park….the trailer park…

Nat Turner

October 11th, 2011
10:40 am

I just hope that they don’t ghettofy it like they did “The Game”. When it was on CW, it wasn’t as hood as it is on BET.

Love Tracee Ellis-Ross. Her figure really is ASStounding.

grannymac

October 11th, 2011
12:50 pm

I think Tracee Ellis Ross and Malcolm Jamal look FABULOUS together! I hope the chemistry is good between them.

carla roqs

October 11th, 2011
1:23 pm

i do not watch bet.

Tava

October 12th, 2011
9:10 am

Great actors weak script !!!

kay

October 12th, 2011
9:22 am

I was not happy with the lack of substance in the script. Sex addiction, jealousy between beautiful black women, insecurity in black marriage. Spoiled kid too old for a temper tantrum. Jaden and Willow Smith would have had better chemistry between the kids acting as twins.

[...] Dad TV Comedy Really Needed, And He Trained With The Best – NPR (blog) Atlanta Journal ConstitutionThe Dad TV Comedy Really Needed, And He Trained With The BestNPR (blog)Tracee Ellis Ross, left, and [...]

carla roqs

October 12th, 2011
9:32 am

@shaun, hunh? @kay-wow.

bebi

October 12th, 2011
10:05 am

I agree that the writing is weak, hopefully it will improve as the series progresses. I thought the acting was good, Warner and Ross have excellent chemistry. I wasn’t too fond of the second episode’s storyline. The child was really too old to behave like such a brat and everyone catered to her every whim. It wasn’t cute at all. The show has potential though.

[...] Atlanta Journal Constitution [...]

E

October 12th, 2011
2:52 pm

LOL. The comment sections are oftentimes more interesting than the actual stories. But anyway, I liked the two epidoes that aired last night. I have nothing but good things to say about the show. I hope BET keeps it for at least four years, which should be enough for 100 episodes.

[...] ‘Reed Between the Lines’ debuts on BET [...]

Chandler Going Deep..

October 13th, 2011
11:00 pm

Tracee Ellis Ross, thanks for letting us see u in that Nightie the other night.. You are awesome in HD!

San

October 14th, 2011
10:03 pm

I already have given this show a 8, almost a 10. I like to positives as in Cosby. I would prefer that this show has its own destiny, none can compare to Cosby. Also, I thought the Harthorn, feathuring Jada Smith, would be positive, instead it turned out to be highly negative and distastflul. It lacked realism. and it embraced the idea that America is rated x. Mrs. Smith forgot our children watch Tv too. Our children need morals, need help in working through peer pressure and someone to take interest. As long as there is life, there is hope. I wish both shows much success I am an Africa American.

BooneyG

October 17th, 2011
1:53 pm

I think that the show is ok, and the actors are dynamite. However the writers really need to step their gang up seriously. The show is very boring, Tracey and Jamal are some good actors, they need some fire writers to make the show a more success. Come on you guys, keep it real. You got to be diverse with your audience!!!!

BooneyG

October 17th, 2011
2:00 pm

I think that the show needs more drama issues as well as some good comedy. Upscale people have issues also that need to be address in this day and time too. So just keep it real, keep it live and most of all, keep it with a lot of soul. You know what I mean. Writers, step your gang up. Come on, if you don’t, this show is going to be canceled, watch what I tell you now!!!

BooneyG

October 17th, 2011
2:03 pm

So far I give this show a grade of C. It needs some improvement. The only way it earned a C is because of Tracey and Malcome. The writers get a F so far. They really need to get to work.