Will Packer Has Big ‘Ambitions’ for the Small Screen
Will Packer made his reputation with such movies as “Girls Trip” but he’s moved into TV.
“We are content creators and I don’t want to be limited to one particular medium,” says Packer of his recent efforts in television.
LeVar Burton, an executive producer on History’s 2016 “Roots,” says he was impressed when he first met Packer, who also came aboard the miniseries as an executive producer.
“Will’s genuine expertise is his finger is on the pulse of the people,” Burton says. “Without question, community outreach was a critical part of our strategy of engagement, of finding an audience, of delivering an audience to the miniseries and Will’s knowledge and expertise and contacts in that regard were enormously valuable.”
Barry Jossen, executive vice president of A&E Studios, which produced the “Roots” remake, says Packer brought a voice of authenticity to the project. Jossen also recalls it was Packer who suggested rapper T.I. for the role of Cyrus, which would be a contrast to Chicken George (Rege-Jean Page).
“We needed someone quick-witted and instinctual and we had a tough time figuring out who embodied that role,” Jossen says. “Will successfully recruited T.I. for that very important character.”
Packer’s earliest forays into TV included executive producing the short-lived comedies “Truth Be Told” (2015, NBC) and “Uncle Buck” (2016, ABC) before founding Will Packer Media in 2017.
“It is unheard of that your first two projects that you bring out when you’re first going into television are bought, made into pilots and picked up to go on air,” Packer says. “It taught me how the television medium works, how the network television process works, and we didn’t stop, of course.
That’s not me. I won’t stop.”
Packer describes his next scripted effort, the soapy “Ambitions,” as “powerful people behaving badly.” It stars Robin Givens and debuts in June on OWN.
“It watches like you want a glass of wine and popcorn in front of you,” says OWN president Tina Perry. “There’s subtle little comedy in a smirk and giggle way that I don’t think that you get watching ‘Greenleaf.’”
Sheila Ducksworth, head of scripted television at Will Packer Media, says a new scripted half-hour, single-camera comedy, “Bigger,” about five thirtysomethings in Atlanta, begins production in April for the Viacom family of platforms, specifically BET. And production is under way on season two of drama “The Baxters,” produced with Roma Downey’s Lightworkers Media and based on a book series by Karen Kingsbury. No distributor has been announced for seasons one and two of “The Baxters.”
“To give you an idea of the bigness of Will Packer [in] television, over a seven-month period we will have produced just under 50 episodes of television,” Ducksworth says, noting the company also has projects on deck at Bravo, HBO and FX.
Kelly Smith heads up Packer’s unscripted projects that vary widely in type and tone.
“[Will’s] brand is so in the feature world and from a comedic standpoint that whenever he and I started talking about projects even I said, ‘I’m not sure this one particular show would be on brand,’ and he said, ‘My brand is good content,’” Smith says. “It’s not like we only do relationship shows or only crime documentaries.”
“Shaq Does Shark Week,” a 2018 special for Discovery Channel, became one of the Top 10 highest-rated “Shark Week” telecasts ever in multiple demos.
Last month Investigation Discovery premiered Will Packer Media’s “The Atlanta Child Murders,” about 29 unsolved killings from 1979 to 1981.
“We were just trying to do our version of the story, give some voice to the victims and their families that had not happened in this kind of a way,” says Packer, who lives in Atlanta. “And give some national attention and lift to this story.”
Then there’s OWN’s dating show for black singles in their 30s and 40s, “Ready to Love,” which debuted in late 2018 and has begun casting for season two, which OWN recently ordered, along with “Love & Marriage: Huntsville.”
“I do not believe there has been casting of African-Americans as wide and as broad and as reflective of the community from a male and female perspective,” says OWN’s Perry. “It wasn’t just hair and skin color and shape, it was what people do for a living, education levels. That’s one thing Will brought, wanting to diversify the presentation of our community.”
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