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Lions Gate ‘Mad’ for Perry plays

Studio to release playwright's work on DVD

Recognizing the gold mine it struck by teaming up with Tyler Perry on his feature debut, “Diary of a Mad Black Woman,” Lions Gate has pacted with Perry to release seven of the playwright-performer’s plays on DVD. (“Diary” was adapted from Perry’s play by the same name.)

Last weekend the $5 million “Diary” grossed $22 million at the box office, a particularly impressive number considering the film was playing on 1,483 screens.

Moving quickly to capitalize on Perry’s success, this week Lions Gate announced a February 2006 release date for the next Perry installment, “Madea’s Family Reunion,” another play adaptation. This summer, in conjunction with the homevid release of “Diary,” Lions Gate will begin releasing DVDs of Perry’s plays, including “Madea’s Class Reunion” and “I Can Do Bad All By Myself.”

Vids and DVDs of Perry’s plays have been sold at performances and online since 2001, but they have never been produced on a mass scale.

“I knew I had a problem this year when I released ‘Meet the Browns’ and everyone already had it,” Perry told Daily Variety. “Before I could get to my fan base, it had been pirated all over the streets. I knew I needed a bigger machine.”

Piracy, Perry said, is a “major issue” for him. “There was a raid in Chinatown (in New York City), and I got a call from my attorney, who said that ‘Spider-Man’ had my DVD right next to it.”

Homevideos and DVDs are important marketing devices for Perry, whose popularity within African-American communities is largely due to word of mouth, much of it from church groups.

Since 1998, merchandise and box office receipts from Perry’s work have generated $80 million. (That figure is expected to reach $100 million by the end of the year.)

Like all of Perry’s plays, which have their roots in what was known as “chitlin circuit” theater, “Diary” is a vaudevillian melange of gospel music, in-your-face humor and outlandish characters who come together to address issues facing African-Americans.

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