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GMC Takes the Stage

2/27/2012 12:01 AM Eastern

GMC is taking the Good Word from the stage
to the screen.

The network plans this year to offer at least eight original
gospel plays — a genre made famous by Tyler Perry’s
Madea-themed stage productions, which travel to theaters
in urban neighborhoods throughout the U.S. The plays,
targeted to an African-American audience, mix comedy
with a serious storyline and, in most cases, an inspirational
ending.

In turning these gospel music-themed stage plays into
a pseudo-series, the network is trying to write a new script
for original drama.

“The gospel play is one of the few art forms that have
been created, developed and produced almost exclusively
for African-American audiences,” GMC vice chairman Brad
Siegel said. “They touch on and hit so many of the sensibilities
and foundations of African-American culture, which
are faith, family and community. The stories and characters
are uniquely African-American, and that’s a big part
of their appeal.”

While other networks, such as BET and TV One, have
taped theater-based gospel plays for air, GMC’s plays are
produced exclusively for the network
and taped without a live audience to
give them more of a television feel, Leslie
Chesloff , executive vice president of
programming for the network, said.

A TV APPROACH

“We wanted to do something different
and try it without an audience as a drama/
comedy,” she said. “It was really
more like a traditional gospel play, but
it’s filmed more like a sitcom.”

The network has already experienced
strong ratings returns for the genre. GMC’s Jan. 21
premiere of Sugar Mommas, the story of three 40-something
women who start their own bakery together
to fulfill their desire to be independent, drew nearly
200,000 total viewers and set network audience records
for gospel plays among key demos, including adults 18-34,
adults 18-49 and adults 25-54, according to the network.

GMC’s plays like Sugar Mommas and She’s Not Our Sister,
starring Jackee Harry (227), feature strong, female
character roles, which play well to the network’s core female
25-54 audience but also attract younger viewers.
“Our Saturday night plays attract an average audience in
the 30s and 40s,” she said. “No one else is producing gospel
plays for television, so it works for us.”

Also paramount for each play is a well-known gospel
singer. The network’s original plays have featured such
artists as Grammy-nominated VaShawn Mitchell (Sugar
Mommas
), showcasing the network’s uplifting and inspirational
brand. The network’s next play, If You Love Me on
March 17, will feature gospel singer Anthony Evans, from
The Voice.

“It’s important to keep the music in everything we do,”
Chesloff said.

GMC hopes the success of its gospel music plays will
provide opportunities to offer sequels and even an ongoing
run of episodes similar to an original series. The
network has already experimented with the gospel play/
series hybrid, developing four follow-up episodes to its
2011 play She’s Not Our Sister under the title She’s Still
Not Our Sister
.

MARRIAGE SERIES SET

GMC will also roll out a four-episode play built around
marriage. The four plays — For Richer or Poorer, To Love
and to Cherish
, To Have and to Hold and In Sickness and
in Health
— will air under the umbrella title The Wedding
Series beginning in April, Siegel said.

“It’s not as expensive as it is to do a scripted series or sitcom,”
Chesloff said. “Putting on fresh, quality programming
is important for the brand.”

Siegel added the network is in discussions to take its
various original gospel plays out on the road, to playhouses,
at some point to garner more exposure for the
network, as well as to generate incremental revenue.

September