Having built up the longest-running scripted show for the Oprah Winfrey Network, “The Haves and the Have Nots,” Tyler Perry’s latest venture with Viacom and BET offers fans a chance to fall in love with a different part of the Perry universe. He’s slated to launch a slew of shows on BET and its new streaming service BET Plus, including the White House drama, “The Oval,” and “Sistas.”
And the content-creating powerhouse claims to have more up his sleeve. “My intention from the beginning was to do what I can to help Oprah stabilize the network and the channel,” Perry says. “It was just a wonderful seven-year relationship. It’s just exciting, but I also realized what I wanted to do and be and the amount of production that I could turn out. One network wasn’t going to be enough.”
As his record shows, his shows boast a seemingly long TV lifespan with the number of spinoffs he’s been able to create within his other works. The most recent is “The Paynes” which appears on OWN. The comedy follows “House of Payne’s” Curtis and Ella, sans children and grandkids, as they move to Florida and settle into retirement. The original “House of Payne” ran in syndication for its first season before TBS carried it until its cancellation in 2012. Past episodes can be found on BET and BET Plus.
Before its run on TBS, “Meet the Browns,” starring husband and wife David and Tamela Mann, began as a spinoff play from “Madea’s Class Reunion.” In the spinoff, Madea’s neighbor Mr. Brown (David Mann) got his own story — “Meet the Browns.” Mr. Brown, who had fathered Madea’s daughter Cora, returns to his family showing off his newly discovered child. The story also had a film adaptation in 2008.
Former cast member Lamman Rucker has gone on to new levels of success since his time in Perry’s films and TV shows. After gaining recognition as Chase in UPN’s “Half & Half,” the actor starred as Will in both the “Meet the Browns” film and the TBS comedy.
Along with Allen Payne of “House of Payne,” Rucker was one of the first young male leading characters in Perry’s sitcom universe. He also made another two appearances as Sheriff Troy in both films in the “Why Did I Get Married?” franchise. Now when he’s not producing and starring in other projects, he can be seen as Jacob Greenleaf, son of the powerful megachurch family in the OWN drama “Greenleaf.”
Rucker may not know some of the origin stories from Perry’s plays, but he notes Perry’s intention with black male characters. Both the men whom Rucker portrayed in his TV shows and films went against negative stereotypes and were educated, religious, family-minded men. “A lot of the content that he gradually adapted to television and film, he had already done and created for the stage,” Rucker says. “So, a lot of those characters and a lot of those stories were already established. What I’ve been highly encouraged to see is just how brilliant, sophisticated and visionary he is. It definitely spoke to me, as a young black man, for him to be so young and to be a brother from such a dynamic background and origin to have the goal that he had. And it brings me great pride and great pleasure to be one of his earliest leading men and to feel like I built this alongside him.”
The actor also reminisces on how far Perry has come and how his work sharing his multifaceted stories, showcasing black talent in various genres has allowed Perry to build his Atlanta empire. He recalls a conversation he had with “House of Payne” cast members Payne, Lance Gross and Lavan Brown at an earlier grand opening for Perry’s first studio location. “We specifically said, ‘If we continue to do our thing and support this brother and continue to help him build what he’s building, this thing will be here for years to come.’ And now here we are 10 years later, doing it again. I think that’s very profound.”
The sentiments were also echoed by Cicely Tyson and Taraji P. Henson, who ascribe the producer and director with some major moves in their careers. Tyson credits him with the revival of her career. The 94-year-old actress garnered her 15th Emmy nomination this year for her work as Ophelia Harkness in “How to Get Away With Murder.”
“It’s so, so amazing to me. I’ll tell you the honest-to-God truth,” the actress tells Variety. “First of all, I didn’t expect the first one so, when I got it, I was stunned and I’m satisfied with just the one. That’s just enough for me. But, they keep coming. They keep coming every year. This is my fourth nomination for [‘How to Get Away With Murder’]. My fourth one. That’s a little bit more than anybody’s entitled to.”
Perry reintroduced Tyson to a younger audience with her appearance in “Diary of a Mad Black Woman,” a role she says she took on after being recruited by the film’s main character and her close friend, Kimberly Elise. Tyson continued to work with Perry, appearing in a number of his films including “Madea’s Family Reunion,” “Why Did I Get Married Too?” and “Alex Cross,” the latter of which is the rare film Perry appeared in as an actor only.
Tyson’s role as a family matriarch in her second film with the director brought her a completely new audience, she says, as kids now recognized her from a famous speech given during one of the film’s biggest scenes. As she stood alongside Maya Angelou, her character told the young members of the family to be done with their negative behavior (gambling and promiscuity), respect what was given to them by their ancestors and to take their place as adults.“Whenever I take a role, I don’t care if it’s a line or half a line. It all means the same to me. It was put there specifically to send a message. So, I take it very seriously. No matter, what it is. One word or one line. It all means the same to me. And that was a very serious speech. It was trying to get people to understand black people, who we were, who we are, what we are, and why we are in this universe.”
She says she never expected the reaction from a younger audience. “After I did that, I couldn’t go anywhere in the streets where the kids wouldn’t stop me and imitate me. Especially where I did that little twist of the body. Male and female, they all did it,” she says with a laugh.
As for Henson, after “The Family That Preys,” her first collaboration with Perry, she went on to star in “The Curious Case of Benjamin,” which earned her first Oscar nomination. But she says it didn’t push her star higher in the eyes of Hollywood.“That’s the thing that people don’t get about Hollywood. It’s very political. That’s what happens — people get these Oscar nominations and they sit and wait for the right [offer] to come. It’s not coming.”
Perry not only offered her first lead role in a film for “I Can Do Bad All by Myself” in 2009, he also paid her $500,000. “My very first quote was half a million dollars thanks to Tyler Perry,” she says. “Others in the industry who may see me as disposable, Tyler Perry saw me as valuable and he paid me my worth. And I’ll never forget him for that and I’ll keep telling the world that a black man named Tyler Perry gave me my quote — not Hollywood. I was waiting for Hollywood to get it and they never did. And they still don’t. They still try to insult me with low blows and low quotes.”
On both her colleagues, Terrence Howard and Perry’s new star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the “Empire” actress had one final statement. “It’s about time. People have been working their asses off, putting in years and years of creativity. It’s just good to see people get recognized because that means their legacy lives on, and it should be that way.”