Island Records founder and entrepreneur Chris Blackwell has teamed with “Narcos” showrunner Eric Newman and Propagate Content’s Ben Silverman to develop a narrative TV series about the birth of reggae music and the rise of Jamaica’s music industry in the wake of the Caribbean island nation’s independence from Britain in 1962.
Silverman, co-CEO of Propagate Content, and Newman pitched the idea to Universal Music Group and Studiocanal, both owned by French conglom Vivendi. Universal Music Group has been actively expanding its operations in film and TV. Sascha Penn, an alum of the Starz drama “Power,” will pen the pilot script. Studiocanal chairman-CEO Didier Lupfer will executive-produce the yet-untitled project with Blackwell, Newman, Silverman and Marlon James, author of the Booker Prize-winning novel “A Brief History of Seven Killings,” which is set in 1970s Jamaica. Studiocanal plans to shop the series to premium TV and streaming outlets.
Blackwell, who was raised in Jamaica and cofounded Island Records in 1959, is essentially a character in the story, given his huge role in popularizing Jamaica’s music via his work with Bob Marley, Toots and the Maytals and others. Blackwell sold Island to Polygram in 1989; Polygram was in turn acquired by Seagram in 1998 and merged with its current parent company, Universal Music Group.
“I am thrilled by the team we have assembled and we are honored to be entrusted by Chris Blackwell to tell an amazing story about a little island that made, and continues to make, a lot of noise,” Newman said.
Silverman added: “This is a groundbreaking premium series focused on an extraordinary man who brought underrepresented music and ideas to the forefront of popular culture. Sascha Penn and Marlon James are perfect collaborators for the extraordinary Chris Blackwell, Eric and me.”
Jeff Berg, former ICM chief, brought the project to Blackwell’s attention and negotiated the deal for Blackwell, Silverman and Newman.