Bringing 'Barbershop' to the Small Screen

John Ridley, executive producer of the new Showtime television series Barbershop, talks about adapting the popular feature film for broadcast.

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ED GORDON, host:

I'm Ed Gordon and this is NEWS & NOTES.

Unidentified Man: And cut! OK.

GORDON: Novelist, filmmaker and TV producer John Ridley is in control at the set of Showtime's new series "Barbershop," the spinoff of the popular movie that starred rappers Ice Cube and Eve. At a recent rehearsal, Ridley guided stars Omar Gooding and Anna Brown, the show's main married characters, through their lines.

Mr. JOHN RIDLEY: So then you, Anna, when you're behind him, come on a little bit stronger.

Ms. ANNA BROWN: OK.

Mr. RIDLEY: You know, why don't you just do it--so now he's got a reason to turn back to you.

Ms. BROWN: OK.

Mr. RIDLEY: OK? Anna, let's ...(unintelligible).

Ms. BROWN: OK, OK, OK, yeah, OK.

Mr. RIDLEY: Action.

GORDON: "Barbershop" is the latest project to John Ridley's impressive list of television and film credits. For more than a decade, he's been writing and producing. John Ridley, welcome to the program. And as I said to you off-mike, congratulations on the show.

Mr. RIDLEY: Thank you very much. I appreciate it. It's been quite an experience, but it's been a good one.

GORDON: Let me ask you, the idea of taking something, an adaptation of such a popular film series and taking it to TV--If any, what were the trepidations?

Mr. RIDLEY: The big trepidation is there are a lot of fans of "Barbershop," the film. Actually, you know, it's been a series of films. And when you take something, you adapt something, there's always that fear that part of the core audience is going to go, `Hey, man, that's not "Barbershop," and I don't want to watch it.' But at the same time, you've got to realize that they've been through a series of film, and like with any franchise, you know, at some point, the energy starts to wane and the interest starts to wane, and you have to reinvigorate it, so you have to balance that need to maintain your core audience but we also do something new and do something different and give people a reason to either come back to "Barbershop" or to sample it for the first time.

GORDON: John, the idea of casting, particularly when the characters are so identifiable with someone else already, how difficult was that and how much play did you have in that?

Mr. RIDLEY: I had a lot of play in it. I did a really big casting search in Los Angeles and New York, went to Chicago. And I think what you have to do is say, `Look, we're not going to necessarily fill those roles. We're not trying to chase what Cube did or what Eve did.' Again, as with the entire show, as we try to reinvent it, we want to bring some new life and some new energy. And I think what we've done is we've found some very talented actors, but also some younger performers who some of them have never been in front of a camera before, but bring a real energy and a real vibe to what they're doing. So it is a balancing act. You don't want to chase what other performers have done, but you certainly want to give the audience performers that are worth tuning into on a weekly basis.

GORDON: How much do you have to watch the idea of not making the barbershop, which really is such an iconic place for black America, not become so much of a caricature?

Mr. RIDLEY: You know, it's tough, because, you know, when you deal in television, it's like you look at a show like, say, "Frasier" and you look at these characters and they're all, to a degree, caricatures or outlandish. I mean, if Frasier was really a psychologist, I mean, this guy would have lost his license on the first day. So when you add in characters then who are black, you know, it gets a little dicey because some people will go, `Oh, you know, it's a stereotype' or `You're just making buffoons out of these characters,' but the television landscape, in terms of sitcoms, you know, everybody does things that are outlandish, because if they just did regular normal things on a daily basis, it would be kind of boring. But I think it's all right to do what we're doing because we don't just portray one type of character on the show. In fact, we got a huge ensemble of eight principal characters that we're dealing with week in and week out.

(Soundbite of "Barbershop")

Unidentified Character #1: But my mom gave me a gift that she was supposed to give me when I was 10 years old, but she forgot. It was a Kung Fu Jackson action figure. See, but the thing is, I resented them for all these years because I was mad at them because they didn't get it for me, but they did get it for me, so I was mad at them for nothing. How messed up is that?

Unidentified Character #2: What the hell's a Kung Fu Jackson?

Unidentified Character #1: It's a black version of a Kung Fu Jim.

Unidentified Character #3: What the hell's a Kung Fu Jim?

Unidentified Character #1: It's an action figure with a jujitsu grip.

Unidentified Character #4: But you played with dolls.

Unidentified Character #1: It's not a doll.

GORDON: Sometimes when you're in the midst of it on the day to day, I'm--I know. I don't want to say `I'm sure,' because I've lived this, too. You don't think about this aspect, but have you thought about the idea when you have a black show, particularly one that has buzz or that is prominent in the sense of eyes being on it, there is that almost extra added burden of trying to hold up, be the shoulders for other shows to come, because ofttimes, the success of that show lends credence to what may follow behind it. Have you thought about that at all?

Mr. RIDLEY: I have, but, you know, I find that we're really in an interesting time in television, because it used to be when I started in television, the black shows that were on, I personally don't feel like they aspired to be much more than, you know, placeholders. But now you look at the landscape, you look at Bernie Mac, you look at the Dave Chappelle show, which may or may not come back, but at least you look at what he was trying to do, you look at "Everybody Hates Chris," which is coming up, you look at our show, which I think is really aspiring to be a smart and clever and satirical show that--I don't think that we in particular--any one of these shows--has to do anything anymore just because the landscape has changed. I think the opportunity is there for people who want to do something interesting, so I don't feel this great burden. And I realize no matter what we do, there are going to be people who love the show and think it's genius. There are going to be people who hate the show and think it's garbage. So you really just have to sort of stand there and do what you're going to do and weather the storm, no matter which direction the winds are coming from.

GORDON: Is the small screen--and I'm talking about in general now, on all levels--anymore receptive than is the big screen of Hollywood?

Mr. RIDLEY: I think it is and I think there are just more opportunities because there's more television out there. And I think year by year, there's a greater level of trust. It really is--it's an old boys' club, which can work for you and can work against you. It's one of those things where people in Hollywood, they could not care less what color you are, what race you are, your background. They want to make money, you know. I mean, it's like Vegas. They could care less where you're coming from, as long as you're putting money on the table. So the reality is, as long as they start meeting people who have a good track record or who make money, it's easy, to a degree, to stay involved and stay competitive, regardless of your race. It's a matter of getting people in and getting people in the door. In television, you know, you're making shows daily.

GORDON: Yeah.

Mr. RIDLEY: So people get to know your work on a daily basis, and I think that's the difference between television and film. They learn to trust you on a daily basis.

GORDON: Well, John Ridley, we know you make good TV...

Mr. RIDLEY: Thank you.

GORDON: ...and we're looking forward to seeing the other nine episodes of "Barbershop," and good luck with it.

Mr. RIDLEY: Thank you very much and thank you for your support. We really appreciate it.

GORDON: John Ridley is the executive producer of the new Showtime television series "Barbershop."

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