Akils nab series, pilot commitments from Viacom cabler

“The Game” exec producers Mara Brock Akil and Salim Akil are deepening their ties to BET, inking a mega-production deal with the cabler.

Three-year overall pact encompasses a series commitment and multiple pilot commitments for the hyphenates, who are married. The deal with Akil Prods. is highly unusual for BET. It’s another sign that the Viacom-owned net is serious about expanding its scripted programming slate.

“This is a very important deal for us. It reflects our belief in (the Akils) as storytellers and creators and our commitment to the world of scripted TV in general,” said Loretha Jones, prexy of original programming for BET Networks. “Mara and Salim are going to play a very important role in our strategic planning for this channel going forward.”

“Game” has led the charge into scripted comedy for BET this year. The sitcom delivered a boffo opening of 9 million viewers for BET in its January bow, which came more than a year after the show was canceled by the CW. “Game” was renewed for another 22 episodes that will roll out early next year.

By then, the Akils intend to be knee-deep in development on at least one new series. They are mulling a range of ideas for shows in genres beyond laffers. They are shopping for office space in Los Angeles and intend to hire a development exec.

“We want to dip into drama programming and maybe some male-oriented programming as well,” Salim Akil said. “The great thing about this is we now have a TV deal with people who are really interested in what we have to say.”

Brock Akil said it was an easy call to do an exclusive pact with BET because the cabler’s execs had been so welcoming from the start, making “Game” the centerpiece of its programming strategy.

“We are in synch with what we want to build together — sophisticated, quality, funny programming,” Brock Akil said. “We’re happy to be in business with a company that really believes in us.”

Brock Akil noted that BET execs went out of their way to partner with them on a promotional campaign that ran during “Game” segs for Salim Akil’s feature directorial debut, “Jumping the Broom,” which bowed to strong B.O. this past weekend, even though the Sony-distribbed “Broom” had no corporate ties to Viacom.

“It’s an extension of the understanding that (BET) has that the audience for ‘Jumping the Broom’ and has a hunger for the type of programming that we can deliver,” Brock Akil said.

Jones echoed that sentiment. She noted that BET execs recognized the big opportunity for scripted programming reflecting the kind of urban multicultural auds that are not as well represented in programming on the major nets.

The sitcom that launched in tandem with “The Game” in January, “Let’s Stay Together,” will return for a sophomore season next year. This fall BET will bow the family comedy “Reed Between the Lines,” starring Malcolm-Jamal Warner and Tracee Ellis Ross. And it has several hourlong prospects in the development hopper, as well as a number of Web-based projects that may serve as incubators for future series.

“Our audience loves storytelling and scripted programs. There’s not a lot of it on other networks that deals with characters and issues that are relevant to their lives,” Jones said. “What makes the Akils so special to us is not limited to the fact that they’re African-American and our demo is black. They are great storytellers. We want to partner with the best people in the creative community that we can.”

The Akils are repped by ICM and attorney Stephen Barnes of Morris Yorn.

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