Mara Brock Akil’s Got ‘Game’

Showrunner keeps busy at BET with revamped 'Game,' startup 'Jane'

Mara Brock Akil put on a hard hat and got out a hammer and nails to rebuild The Game for the BET sitcom’s sixth season, which bows March 26.

The showrunner made a host of changes to the sitcom even as she was busy getting a new show for BET on its feet: Dramedy “Being Mary Jane,” which bows later this year.

Game” replaced two core cast members and made a host of other changes — building new sets, punting the laugh track — in order to take the laffer about pro football players and their significant others in new directions. The skein has a 20-episode order.

“Game” already has beaten most of TV’s odds since Akil created the series, a spinoff of “Girlfriends,” in 2006. It survived cancellation by the CW in 2009, and was revived with record ratings for BET in 2011. It opens its third season on the Viacom cabler with an hourlong 100th episode — a milestone for any show, let alone a cable sitcom.

(From the pages of the March 26 issue of Variety.)

For Akil, the new season of “Game” is satisfying because she and her husband, helmer-collaborator Salim Akil, finally achieved the look and feel they’d been striving for since the days of “Girlfriends” (which amassed an impressive 172 episodes) on UPN. She credits BET execs for the willingness to invest the kind of below-the-line money usually spent on new shows on an established property.

“The show looks amazing,” Brock Akil says. “It’s gorgeous, and we are shooting all over Atlanta. Our characters are of the world, and it’s edgy. We don’t have the laugh track any more. We’ve finally accepted it as a single-camera show.”

The addition of thesps Lauren London and Jay Ellis, who were recruited after regulars Pooch Hall and Tia Mowry-Hardrict opted to bow out of season six, has given the production a burst of new energy, Akil says. Hall is featured in the 100th episode to close out his character’s storyline.

“It’s actually been very organic and authentic to our series” to have key characters move on, Akil says. “Players come and go, but the game has to go on. Pooch does a killer goodbye.”

As for Being Mary Jane, Akil says she’s happy to finally be shooting Atlanta for Atlanta after having to make the Peach State look like San Diego for “Game.” The new show revolves around a female anchor, played by Gabrielle Union, for a cable news network not unlike the big one that put Atlanta on the media map.

Gabrielle Union’s performance is going to make people’s jaw drop,” Akil assures.

Sitcom scores

Producer Mara Brock Akil has a strong track record with African-American comedies.

7.7m viewers for “The Game’s” BET premiere on Jan. 11, 2011, a record for a cable comedy
5.3m viewers for “Game’s” second BET season bow on Jan. 10, 2012
172: Number of episodes produced for “Game” predecessor “Girlfriends”

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