EXCLUSIVE: Following the success of Lee Daniels’ The Butler, ABC has put in development a limited series about another famous black White House servant. A Slave In The White House, from filmmakers Sheldon Candis and Justin Wilson (LUV) and Deborah Spera and Maria Grasso’s One-Two Punch Prods, is a 12-hour limited series based on the true story of Paul Jennings, a Virginia-born slave who served as personal valet to President James Madison while at the same working behind the scenes as a subversive anti-slavery activist. Based on Elizabeth Dowling Taylor’s bestselling book, A Slave In The White House chronicles Jennings’ relationship with the Madison family, becoming the President’s surrogate son, and his journey to procure his own family’s freedom. Jennings spent his entire life in and around the White House from age 10 and, after buying his freedom at age 46, wrote the first White House memoir, A Colored Man’s Reminisces Of James Madison. The TV project has a special meaning for Wilson as its deal came together on the day his father suddenly passed away while the two were hiking together on the Inca Trail in Peru. “Since A Slave In The White House is a father-and-son story at heart, it carries even more resonance for me now,” Wilson said. “I’ll be dedicating the show to my dad. I’m just grateful that he was able to share in a little bit of the joy of this success that he’d always desired for me as a writer.”
In Candis and Wilson’s first foray into TV, the two will write and co-executive produce Slave In The White House, with Candis directing and Spera and Grasso executive producing. Candis and Wilson’s debut feature film LUV premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival and was released in theaters in January, with the screenplay earning the duo a 2012 Humanitas Prize nomination. Candis recently directed the viral short film Crooked Smile for Jay-Z’s RocNation artist J. Cole and TLC. The two are repped by Gersh, Generate and attorney Stephen Clark. A Slave In The White House marks Spera and Grasso’s sixth sale this season, with a seventh pending. Their other projects include include Take Down at Fox, Love Is and Counting Backwards at ABC, and untitled comedy and Richochet at NBC. The duo, who recently made a first-look deal at ITV Studios, is with WME.