LeBron James has provided NBA fans with plenty of memorable televised moments over the course of a 10-year NBA career that's featured four NBA Most Valuable Player awards and back-to-back NBA championships. Now, he'll try to take his penchant for creating must-see TV into the realm of scripted entertainment, joining childhood friend/business partner Maverick Carter and TV producer/Fenway Sports Group chairman Tom Werner in developing a half-hour comedy program for the cable network Starz.
The show, titled "Survivor's Remorse," will follow two friends who find success — one in the NBA, one in the business world — and "explore the complexity, comedy and drama of an experience that everyone reads about, but few understand — what truly happens when you make it out," according to the network press release announcing the project:
Through a combination of God-given talent and north Philly grit, Cam Calloway and Reggie Vaughn have achieved fame and fortune that neither could have imagined growing up in one of the toughest neighborhoods in Philadelphia. But success comes with its own challenges, and the cousins and confidantes wrestle with the rewards of money, stardom, love, and occasionally, the guilt of having "made it."
"We are incredibly excited at Starz to work with such a deep bench of talented storytellers to develop 'Survivor's Remorse,'" said [Starz Chief Executive Officer Chris] Albrecht. "Everyone involved brings something unique to the table — from Tom Werner's legendary television success to LeBron's extraordinary life experiences and point of view. We hope that 'Survivor's Remorse' will bring the humor, pain and complexity of these characters to life in a way that is honest and compelling for audiences worldwide."
Here's a fun piece of news for my fellow '80s babies and '90s children: Mike O'Malley has been named one of the show's executive producers and writers. I'm sure he got the gig for his sitcom experience (he was the lead on "Yes, Dear" and has played a supporting role on "Glee") and writing/producing work on Showtime's "Shameless," but I'll choose to believe it was due, at least in part, to James being a big fan of Nickelodeon's "Guts" growing up.
We're still a long way away from the show ever seeing airwaves — as Dave Itzkoff of the New York Times, among others, has noted, the network has yet to actually place an episode order and start production on the show, so this could very well become one of the countless projects that get killed before they even really get started. It could have a fighting chance, though, given Starz's desperate need for original programming that will make subscribers tune in, James' megawatt star power and Werner's TV bona fides — he co-founded The Carsey-Werner Company, which produced a variety of successful and long-running sitcoms, including "The Cosby Show," "Roseanne," "A Different World," "Grace Under Fire," "3rd Rock from the Sun" and "That '70s Show." Werner was also an executive producer on "The Life and Times of Tim," an animated HBO comedy with a very different tone from those more mainstream network hits.
While the thumbnail sketch of a show about two friends who achieve fame and wealth in basketball and business will obviously draw inspiration from the stories of executive producers James and Carter, Maverick told The Associated Press that it's "definitely not an autobiographical series about my life or LeBron's life; it's fictional characters living in a fictional world." He also made clear that James wouldn't be stepping in front of the camera on "Survivor's Remorse," for fear of derailing things: "LeBron is actually too famous, he would screw the show up if I tried to make a show about him."
James, however, didn't shy away from the parallels between their come-up and the characters' inspirations: "For Maverick and I even to be where we are right now, given where we came from, is kind of hard to believe. I felt like it was a story that needed to be told, and nobody can craft a story like Tom Werner."
The title, "Survivor's Remorse," seems a bit dark for a half-hour comedy, but it's also clearly something that's been on LeBron's mind — and part of LeBron's branding — in recent months. After his Miami Heat defeated the San Antonio Spurs to capture a second consecutive league championship and NBA Finals MVP trophy, James made a point of emphasizing the statistically unlikely nature of his ascent: "I'm LeBron James from Akron, Ohio, from the inner city. I'm not even supposed to be here. That's enough. Every night I walk into the locker room, I see a number 6 [jersey] with 'James' on the back. I'm blessed. So what everybody's saying about me off the court don't matter. I ain't got no worries."
James expanded on that in an interview with the AP:
"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." [...]
"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.
Whether James, Carter, Werner and company can successfully extract compelling comedy from the premise in the pitch remains to be seen, but it's worth remembering that Starz was the network that brought viewers the excellent and brilliant comedy series "Party Down," so it's not like Starz's history is all "Spartacus" all the time. Then again, "Party Down" got cancelled after two seasons and 20 episodes, so it's probably a good idea for us to keep our expectations for the shelf-life of this next comedy endeavor manageably low for the time being. For now, let's just choose to hope it aspires to be something more than "NBA Entourage," consider it neat that LeBron will be involved with a TV production that's neither "The LeBrons" nor "The Decision," and congratulate me on referencing "Grace Under Fire" in an NBA blog post in September.