The Black List is teaming with the NAACP and CBS Studios’ production venture for a new initiative aimed at supporting TV scriptwriters telling authentic stories about the Black experience.
Announced Tuesday, the partnership will see The Black List assist CBS Studios/NAACP Production Venture in identifying a shortlist of writers, after which one WGA-minimum script deal will be extended to a writer identified by the initiative.
The program launches on Aug. 16 and runs through Nov. 16, and will consider writers with feature films, pilots, plays or theatrical musicals hosted on the Black List website at no additional charge. Those who don’t currently have a script hosted on the site are encouraged to host their script on the site for at least a week before the deadline to guarantee eligibility.
“The NAACP’s response to the release of Birth of a Nation remains a criminally underappreciated moment in the history of cinema,” Franklin Leonard, founder and CEO of The Black List, said in a statement. “It’s a real joy to partner with them and CBS Studios to find exceptional writers writing about the Black experience.”
Sheila Ducksworth, president of the CBS/NAACP Production Venture, credits several CBS Entertainment and TV Studios executives and Tiffany Smith-Anoa’i, EVP, Diversity and Inclusion West Coast at Paramount Global, for the genesis of the partnership. “Tiffany actually jump-started all of this. She was the one who had gotten together and hit me up and said, ‘We’re thinking about doing this. Let’s make a go of it. Look at the success that The Black List has had with other studios with this endeavor. We should be a part of it too,’” Ducksworth said.
For those writers who are shortlisted, and the one who is ultimately chosen for the script deal, there is broad potential for where those projects could land in a multiplatform industry, according to the CBS/NAACP production venture president.
“These last several years, it’s been incredible. Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of opportunities for new shows, new creators, new stories,” she said of TV’s broadcast, basic and premium cable, as well as streaming opportunities. “And we, as part of the studio, as well as overall the studio, pitch absolutely to all of those platforms.”
“Right now and as soon as possible is always the best time to be looking broadly to the most talented writers,” Leonard told The Hollywood Reporter about the timing of the initiative, which comes just over a year after the CBS and NAACP venture was launched.
For Leonard, who says The Black List has only started to venture more into TV writing, this new opportunity allows his organization to use its power of circumventing the traditional high-volume, dominant culture-focused storytelling found in the Hollywood pipeline for script consideration — “the agencies and management companies who inform you about the talent” — for more people.
“To be able to do that in television, I think to be able to do that specifically with these kinds of stories with a partner like CBS and like the NAACP, for me, it’s a once-in-a-career opportunity, when you think about the historical context,” he says.
“Managers, agents — all of that word of mouth is great. But there’s no limit to the number of really talented people out there,” Ducksworth adds. “This is a great one we think for people who have a desire but may not the means or the wherewithal of ‘How do I start?’ This really equalizes so much.”
It’s also a chance to expand where TV has typically gone for scripts and encourages all writers to consider their work for TV. “I think what’s really special about this program is that people from all mediums can submit,” she tells THR. “So if you’re a playwright, if you’re a screenwriter, if you’re a TV writer, or if you want to be any of those things, but have a desire to get into TV, this is an opportunity.”
While the deal will go to a single scriptwriter, the initiative will hopefully help create not just one but a web of opportunities, as evidenced, Leonard says, by director Ava DuVernay’s approach with Queen Sugar.
“Anytime a show gets made, it’s not just one person who gets an employment opportunity, but a bunch of other people at various levels in the business. Particularly in the context of Black television, but also television generally, every single one of those shows that’s ever gotten made, those writers then went and made other shows and hired other people that made other shows,” Leonard says.
“The number of first-time female directors [DuVernay] hired on [Queen Sugar] and the number of people that I know that those first-time directors will hire and subsequent employment opportunities — that’s one of the things I get really excited about in television: You can increase the diversity of the shows that are getting made through the authors of the shows and from that you’ve also increased the size of the other folks that are having an opportunity and, frankly, training so that they can be the ones doing that next.”
Shortlisted writers may be asked to provide additional materials, such as a professional resume and personal statement, as part of the consideration process. Writers can submit their narratives through the submission period on blcklst.com.