EXCLUSIVE: Deadline has learned that the three Nelson Mandela granddaughters who will star in their own reality show slated for next year will be making the pitch rounds at the U.S. networks beginning Monday. Rick Leed, the former president of Wind Dancer Production Group (Home Improvement) and who created and executive produced the E! reality series Dr. 90210 for six seasons, is the American producing partner on the series. It’s being distributed internationally and carries the title Being Mandela. The three central characters are Dorothy Adjoa Amuah, 27; her first cousin, Swati Diamini, 32; and Swati’s older sister, 34-year-old Zaziwe Diamini-Manaway (or “Z” for short). All three are granddaughters of Nelson, now 93, who will not participate in the show, nor will any of the womens’ parents. However, Mandela’s grandson Kweku Mandela is another of the producing partners. Leed said this week that the show — scheduled to start shooting in December and debut early next year — is drawing significant interest from “all of the top-tier cable players” including TLC, USA, A&E, Lifetime, Oxygen, E!, TNT, TBS and Bravo. “We’ll be in L.A. taking a very intense round of meetings with broadcasters next week,” he says. “It’s a very competitive situation and a very hot show.” He added that the show already has sold throughout Africa but not yet anywhere in Europe.
Describing the series as a docu-soap and a blend of “real life and lightheartedness,” Leed maintains that Being Mandela will aim higher than, say, Keeping Up With The Kardashians and won’t detract from the dignity carried by the Mandela name. Director Graeme Swanepoel said in September that the show will tell the story of “three women breaking away from the Mandela legacy to find their own two feet.” He added, “What makes this show a lot different than Real Housewives Of Beverly Hills is that these women are real first cousins and best friends who grew up together.”
But is that a show? It obviously makes sense that a series bearing the Mandela name would be an easy sell on Nelson’s native continent. But do enough people in the U.S. care about the extended family of Nelson Mandela to justify a weekly hour chronicling their exploits in Johannesburg, the U.S. and other parts of the world? “Yes,” Leed naturally believes. “Kids know about Nelson from history class, and he tops almost every poll in America as the most-admired living person.” What is the motivation for Dorothy, Swati and Zaziwe in doing the show if not simply for the money? Leed stresses that all three are highly philanthropic and believe that the exposure they’ll gain from Being Mandela will help foster their AIDS prevention and African education work through the Nelson Mandela Foundation. “They also want to show that women can be a little bit classier than most of the ones you see on reality TV,” Leed notes. “They’re motivated by the opportunity to show that there are other role models beyond Kim and Snooki, and to show that women of color can be more on television than just music stars, teenage moms and crack whores.” All three of the Mandela granddaughters also are no strangers to the U.S., having grown up in Boston while the family was in exile, and have permanent residences here. But Leed promises the women aren’t pompous jet-setting heiresses but down-to-earth, sophisticated and upscale like the fictitious Huxtables from The Cosby Show. We’ll see if that’s enough to endear them to America.