Lifestyle & Entertainment Round-Up Newsweek national correspondent Allison Samuels talks about the week in entertainment, including the comeback of The CW's The Game and Cartoon Network's Boondocks, and she explains why actor/director Tyler Perry has a film formula Hollywood can't copy.

Lifestyle & Entertainment Round-Up

Lifestyle & Entertainment Round-Up

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Newsweek national correspondent Allison Samuels talks about the week in entertainment, including the comeback of The CW's The Game and Cartoon Network's Boondocks, and she explains why actor/director Tyler Perry has a film formula Hollywood can't copy.

FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

This is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Farai Chideya.

Black star power took the lead at the box office. Tyler Perry's new film "Why Did I Get Married" is the number one movie in the country. It raked in twenty-one and a half million dollars on opening weekend. But, as they say in Hollywood, does the film have legs?

Here to break this down and other Hollywood news is Allison Samuels. She's a national correspondent for Newsweek magazine. Hey.

Ms. ALLISON SAMUELS (National Correspondent, Newsweek Magazine): Hey, how are you doing?

CHIDEYA: I am doing great. So he beat out George Clooney…

Ms. SAMUELS: Right.

CHIDEYA: …and a slew of other white stars. He's had major success in the theaters. Why do you think some people were so surprised?

Mr. SAMUELS: I, you know, I think people are so surprised because he has a formula. He's developed a formula that can't be sort of recreated by Hollywood. He has a certain inside baseball look at African-American life. And I don't know why they are surprised because he did it with, you know, "Diary of a Mad Black Woman." That one was number one.

I just think it's a lack of understanding of the subject matter that he's putting out there so it becomes, wow, how did this happen? You know, because I think if they could copy it, they would, but they can't. You know, you can copy a hood film because that's sort of straight. But this is really - he's dealing with spiritual, you know, stuff in the African-American community and just sort of African-American men and women and how they interact. I think white studios can't figure that out.

CHIDEYA: What about white audiences? Are they latching on to his film or is this largely driven by the African-American audience?

Mr. SAMUELS: I think it's largely driven by the African-American community. I do talk to some people who are white who are fascinated by it, and that's why I think it's growing. I think that the more that he is sort of out there with the TV show and with movies that people are going to go, well, who is this guy? What is going on? So I think it is going to sort of open to a more mainstream audience. But the fact that Hollywood is surprised every timeout, I'm, like, how many times, you know, that he have to have a hit for you not to get it? This guy, you know, is huge.

CHIDEYA: Tell me a little bit about his empire. You mentioned that he's got TV, movies. He's obviously made a hit with stage plays. Who is this guy?

Mr. SAMUELS: Right. Tyler Perry is just this incredibly creative man who has so many different ideas. I went to his studio in Atlanta and he does a - he has a talk show that he does online. And, you know, he films the TV show in the morning and then he would go on - the day I met him, he was filming the TV show in the morning and then going off that afternoon and finishing his movie.

So this is a guy who works nonstop and has nonstop ideas. I mean, I think, "Meet the Browns" is his next project with Angela Bassett. And the thing that I love about him: He's giving African-American women, who really don't get chance to work a lot - he's giving them parts. And I think that's the part that makes an African-American woman, you know, drive that market. I mean, that's who went to see that movie, and they bring their boyfriends along. So I just think he really gets who his audience is and understands what they want to see and understands, you know, sort of what we're about. And I think that is why - because if Hollywood could recreate what he's doing, they would. They just can't. But he's so, you know, he really gets it. I like him a lot. He's really good.

CHIDEYA: When I had a chance to talk to him and Janet Jackson, I asked them the question, will this movie which has a very bushy(ph) sensibility and lots of beautiful sets out in the countryside fail to serve some of his traditional audiences, which have liked his broader humor, he said no. What do you think?

Ms. SAMUELS: I agree because I think they sort of accept him because he certainly has done that other part of humor for years. So I think that there is understanding and, you know, just sort of appreciation of him trying to expand. The only thing that I think that he probably has to deal with is when he's not Madea. I think that's something that he struggled with - when he's not Madea.

CHIDEYA: Madea being the gun-toting…

Ms. SAMUELS: Right.

CHIDEYA: Cross dresser.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CHIDEYA: Him…

Ms. SAMUELS: Right. Right.

CHIDEYA: as this big, old, lumpy grandmother with a gun.

Ms. SAMUELS: Right, right. That's, I think, the hard part for him because in "Daddy's Little Girls" he wasn't in it at all. And that movie didn't do as well. So I think that, for him, is the most difficult part. And even with the TV show, Madea had to make appearances in the beginning to sort of get people on board. So I think that's probably his biggest obstacle.

CHIDEYA: Now, let's jump to the small screen. There's another project with an African-American at the helm. The CW Network has a surprise hit called "The Game."

Ms. SAMUELS: Right.

CHIDEYA: It's a sitcom about the wives and girlfriends of NFL players, and it's leading in its Monday time slot.

Ms. SAMUELS: Yes.

CHIDEYA: African-American woman as the producer, what's the buzz?

Ms. SAMUELS: The buzz is that, you know, the thing with Mara Brock Akil - she is the creator of "Girlfriends." And she had - "The Game" came on last year - I mean, last year is well, but this year, it really picked up momentum. And it's very interesting because it's a dramedy. It's not a straight comedy. When you watch it, you're not going to be just sort of falling over laughing because it deals with some pretty serious, you know, issues - infidelity, you know, just sort of illegitimate children - all type of things. But that is a world that, I think, we're really fascinated by - the world of professional athletes. And she's really smart because ESPN had a similar show that was a drama, and the NFL got that taken off really quickly. But I think she's been smart to do it as a sort of comedy. So it takes away some of the, you know, exact references to the NFL. And she's been able to sort of get away with that. But it's a really smart show. I mean, I think that you get addicted to it once you watch it.

CHIDEYA: Is it like "Footballer's Wives" for black Americans or just for all Americans?

Ms. SAMUELS: For all Americans because she has white characters. You know, one of the leading characters is white, married to a black man, but she is white. And I think it's for everyone. But it's definitely more of inside baseball of exactly what goes on when you're the mate of this person who's always in the forefront and what that entails.

CHIDEYA: All right. I want to move on to the world of hip-hop. So we had the VH-1 Hip Hop Honors, BET's hip-hop awards. Now, hip-hop - been around for 30 years.

Ms. SAMUELS: Right.

CHIDEYA: Has it jumped the shark? There are so many award shows these days.

Ms. SAMUELS: Right. Right.

CHIDEYA: Just on a fundamental level, how is hip-hop faring by having all of this attention? And is it kind of overexposed?

Ms. SAMUELS: I think the show is overexposed. There's definitely too many shows. I mean, when you think about it's sort of coinciding with hip-hop not selling as well as it used to. I mean, the only hip-hop person in the top 10 this week is Kanye. There's nobody else, you know, on the charts right now. So I don't quite understand why so many happen, in particular all at the same time. They're not spaced out; they happen sort of back to back to back.

But I also think they are money making in the sense of you get the artist to come out. For BET, they got a big sort of, you know, a shot up in the ratings for that because you get, I mean, you get the audience to watch all - because they're interested in the same thing at the same time because they see all their hip-hop sort of idols together at once.

VH-1 was, you know, so-so. But there's is sort of a tribute to the past whereas BET was definitely about hip-hop artists right now. But the thing that got me with BET is that people, I think, didn't recognize that Kat Williams came in with a noose around his neck.

CHIDEYA: Yeah, I know. Hello?

Ms. SAMUELS: I was like, I don't know. Midway of the show, it was off. So I think somebody pulled him in the side and said, you know, you can't do this. But I guess he was making a statement, but…

CHIDEYA: What statement was it?

Ms. SAMUELS: I'm not sure. I'm really not sure. But I would have loved to have had him discuss that. You know what I mean? But they made him take it off. But I do think that it's interesting that it's coinciding with hip-hop not selling. And I don't know if this is an effort to sort of get that, you know, fire back into the game. You know, but that's the way it sort of appears to be. It's like if you talk about it enough, people will be interested again and will go out and start buying the records.

CHIDEYA: In addition to the news, there's also the two gentlemen of the Jena Six coming on and flossing.

Ms. SAMUELS: Right.

CHIDEYA: There's been a lot of backlash to that.

Ms. SAMUELS: Well, you know, I didn't know what to take from that. I mean, I understand that they obviously want to have the support. They're young guys. I mean, of course, they love hip-hop I'm sure as much as anybody else. It's - I'm not being in that position, which is why I sort of wondered about the criticism. I don't know what one would do in that situation. I think it's just sort of hard to determine, you know, what you do if you're in that - you know, they're getting so much love, so much support, so much attention, I don't know, I think they sort of felt like, oh, you know, here's an opportunity to go out and hang with some of the people and meet some of my celebrities. It didn't bother me that much, I have to say. I was surprised when people were so upset.

CHIDEYA: Let's just go briefly to the issue of award shows. There are so many - there was recently a YouTube clip that's viral, about Danny Bonaduce throwing some dude over his shoulders at these reality TV awards and breaking up his teeth. I mean, it's - there's just - there's a plethora…

Ms. SAMUELS: Right.

CHIDEYA: …if not a flood, if not a surfeit of these award shows.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SAMUELS: Yeah. Yeah.

CHIDEYA: How many can people watch?

Ms. SAMUELS: I, you know - I ask that same question about reality shows. How many can people watch? I mean, I'm amazed at the sort of attention span that we have for certain things. And I - for some reason, I guess, watching people get dressed up and look good and do whatever really gets, you know, us going. But I have to say I am surprised and I don't know - it's a money-making venture. I think that's the main thing. Sponsors, all that kind of stuff, networks really get money from those shows. And they also get sort of a shot in the ratings. So I think as long as money is behind it, they will keep showing it.

CHIDEYA: Absolutely. Allison, thanks so much.

Ms. SAMUELS: Thank you.

CHIDEYA: Allison Samuels is a correspondent for Newsweek Magazine, and she joined me in our NPR West studios.

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