WASHINGTON / PASADENA, CA National Geographic Global Television Networks President Courteney Monroe announced today at the network’s TCA presentation that Suzan-Lori Parks, Pulitzer Prize award-winning playwright of “Topdog/Underdog,” will be executive producer and showrunner for GENIUS: ARETHA FRANKLIN. This upcoming season will be the first-ever, definitive scripted miniseries on the life of the universally acclaimed Queen of Soul.
Fox 21 Television Studios, the studio behind “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story,” “The Americans,” “Homeland,” “The People v. OJ: American Crime Story” and the two prior award-winning seasons of GENIUS, will also return to produce the next installment. Filming will start this summer for an early 2020 premiere on National Geographic Channels in 172 countries and 43 languages.
National Geographic, the company behind the Academy Award-nominated FREE SOLO, premiered the first season of GENIUS in 2017, which starred Geoffrey Rush as the brilliant scientist Albert Einstein. Ken Biller was showrunner and creator for the multi-Emmy award winning GENIUS: PICASSO and GENIUS: EINSTEIN. GENIUS: EINSTEIN earned 10 Emmy nominations, including Outstanding Limited Series, as well as Golden Globe and SAG Award nominations for Rush. The follow-up season, GENIUS: PICASSO, starred Antonio Banderas as the titular Spanish painter, and matched much of the success of its predecessor, earning seven Emmy nominations — and two wins — as well as Golden Globe and SAG Award nominations for Banderas.
Legendary hit record producer Clive Davis and Atlantic Records Chairman and CEO Craig Kallman have also joined as executive producers. Imagine Entertainment has partnered with Warner Music Group for this third season, which will again be executive produced by Imagine’s Brian Grazer, Ron Howard and Francie Calfo; Gigi Pritzker and Rachel Shane (MWM Studios); and Sam Sokolow (EUE/Sokolow). Imagine’s Anna Culp will serve as producer alongside Peter Afterman.
The production will feature many of Franklin’s biggest recordings and hit songs from the comprehensive Warner Music catalogue, including “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You),” “Chain of Fools,” “Don’t Play That Song,” “Since You’ve Been Gone” and “Baby I Love You.” In addition, the series will feature Franklin’s performances of “I Knew You Were Waiting for Me,” “Freeway of Love” and “Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves.”
“Aretha Franklin had the ability to empower generations through her iconic music, and I’m excited to finally be able to tell her story, a career passion of mine. All through her life she used her voice to elevate people and the causes she believed in, especially the women’s and civil rights movements,” said Grazer. “You can hear the hopes and sorrows of a divided nation in her soulful voice, penetrating and motivating people at their core in a deeply emotional way. She cut through the pain of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination to help heal and unite America with her music and, in the process, ushered in the post-gospel era of rhythm and blues. We’re so grateful she shared her genius with the world.”
“Aretha and I shared a 40-year friendship, ever since she cooked me dinner to talk about working together to reinvigorate her career,” said Davis. “I am forever grateful to have had the opportunity to collaborate with her and her incredible instrument. She was a gift to the world, one that will last for many generations. I am thrilled to be celebrating her genius with Brian Grazer, Ron Howard and Imagine.”
“Since that day 52 years ago, when Aretha Franklin entered a recording studio in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, sat down at the piano, and recorded her first track for Atlantic Records, music was changed forever. She took the roots of gospel and R&B, and imbued them with unprecedented originality, spirit, and depth,” said Kallman. “Through her talent and her humanity, Aretha transformed people and cultures across the globe. Her Atlantic recordings form a phenomenal body of work that has entered the timeless musical canon, and we’re deeply proud to be a part of her extraordinary legacy. Warner Music Group is honored to be partnering with Ron, Brian, and the team at Imagine, along with Clive Davis, to tell the story of Aretha’s genius.”
Tony award-winning Parks is the first African-American woman to receive a Pulitzer Prize in Drama, for the 2001 play “Topdog/Underdog.” The distinguished author was named among Time magazine’s “100 Innovators for the Next Wave” and is a MacArthur “Genius” Grant recipient. Her other work includes “In the Blood” (Pulitzer Prize finalist), “The Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess” (Tony Award winner), “Father Comes Home from the Wars, Parts 1, 2 and 3” (Pulitzer Prize finalist) and “Unchain My Heart: The Ray Charles Musical.” Most recently, she wrote the screenplay for the feature film “Native Son,” which was acquired by HBO in advance of its premiere at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival.
The anthology series will explore Franklin’s musical genius, incomparable career and the immeasurable impact and lasting influence she had around the world. Grammy Award winner Franklin was a gospel prodigy and outspoken civil rights champion and is widely considered to be the greatest singer of her generation, receiving countless honors throughout her career.
Without knowing how to read music, Franklin taught herself to play the piano, began to record songs and sang on gospel tours with her father. She signed her first record deal at age 18 with Columbia Records before moving to Atlantic Records and then Arista, where she was united with founder Davis and began a more than 40-year partnership with him. The legendary singer is one of the world’s best-selling musical artists of all time, with more than 75 million records sold globally during her career. Her voice was identified as a “natural resource” by her home state of Michigan.
Imagine has a history of creating timeless and culturally impactful films, shows and documentaries in the world of music, including the Academy Award-winning film “8 Mile,” the Grammy Award-winning documentary “The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years” and Emmy-winning television drama “Empire.” The company also produced the film “Get On Up” about James Brown, and many documentaries, including “Jay Z’s Made in America,” “Katy Perry: Part of Me” and the upcoming “Pavarotti.” Imagine is currently in production on the Hulu series “Wu-Tang: An American Saga” and developing a film version of the musical “Tick,Tick…BOOM!” with Lin-Manuel Miranda directing.