By Nekesa Mumbi Moody
NEW YORK: After LeBron James won his second NBA championship this year, he talked about the improbability of his journey — ascending to world fame despite growing up with challenge after challenge in the inner city.
Now James plans to explore that theme as part of Survivor’s Remorse, a new show he’s developing with Starz. Though he won’t star in the half-hour sitcom, he’ll be one of the executive producers of the show, which will explore the lives of two men from the streets who attain fame — one is an NBA star and one is not — and how they deal with friends and families in the wake of that success.
“I think the main thing for me is, first of all, making it out of a place where you’re not supposed to. You’re supposed to be a statistic and end up like the rest of the people in the inner city — [and] being one of the few to make it out and everyone looking at you to be the savior,” the Miami Heat superstar said in a phone interview last week.
“When you make it out, everyone expects for — they automatically think that they made it out and it’s very tough for a young, African-American 18-year-old kid to now hold the responsibility of a whole city, of a whole community. I can relate to that as well,” said James, who was 18 when he came to the NBA and is now a 28-year-old veteran.
James is developing the show with his longtime friend and business partner, Maverick Carter; Tom Werner, the producer behind classic shows like Roseanne and The Cosby Show; and actor Mike O’Malley, who will be an executive producer and is the show’s writer. Paul Wachter will also be an executive producer.
“It’s definitely not an autobiographical series about my life or LeBron’s life; it’s fictional characters living in a fictional world,” said Carter, before adding with a laugh: “LeBron is actually too famous, he would screw the show up if I tried to make a show about him.”
The show is based in North Philadelphia instead of Akron, where the two are from: “More people can relate to it,” explained Carter of Philadelphia.
Still, Werner said the inspiration for the series started in part with conversations he had with Carter, and later James, about their lives.
“I think the juxtaposition of great wealth — and then you go back to your home in Akron and the neighborhood that you come from — the chasm is a fairly big one, and I think it’s some very interesting story material,” he said.
Werner, James and Carter have worked together since 2011. They are part of Fenway Sports Group, and Werner is the chairman of the organization, which combines sports, media and entertainment. Werner said they were “delighted” to bring the show, which is in development but has no firm timetable to air, to Starz.
James has had an ongoing relationship with television that goes beyond seeing his games televised. He has been a frequent presence in TV commercials, hosted Saturday Night Live and the ESPYs, and been a guest voice on The Simpsons.
In a statement announcing the Starz deal, James said he had a deep passion for the “amazing television being created right now,” and said he loved the shows Boardwalk Empire, Magic City, Scandal and 24. Of those shows, the one airing on Starz — Magic City — was recently canceled after two seasons. 24 ended its regular series run in 2010, although a limited-run return is set for Spring 2014. Boardwalk Empire begins a new season on HBO on Sunday and Scandal resumes on ABC on Oct. 3.
Starz CEO Chris Albrecht said the show would be different for the channel, whose original programming includes the recently launched The White Queen.
“It’s a contemporary piece, which we’ve been trying to find,” he said. “But mostly it’s an opportunity to bring us into a world where guys as producers and a terrifically talented guy as a writer who I think are going to take the audience on an interesting, fun and I would bet funny ride.”
However, there will be serious subjects tackled in the show. Werner compared Survivor’s Remorse to shows like Roseanne, which dealt with difficult situations with humor interspersed with serious moments.
“Nobody’s getting killed, nobody’s dying from cancer on this show,” Carter said. “It’s light-hearted, but its real-life stories.”
James said though it’s been years, survivor’s remorse is still something he feels.
“I live with that, knowing that I have to hold a huge burden and responsibility that a lot of people cannot even think about,” he said.