In a very competitive situation with three networks bidding, National Geographic Channel has landed The Black 22s, a drama series project executive produced by writer Paul Guyot (TNT’s The Librarians), Selma star David Oyelowo, The Librarians creator John Rogers and Jennifer Court of Kung Fu Monkey Productions as well as Bharat Nalluri (Life on Mars), who is attached to direct.
Written by Guyot, who will serve as showrunner, The Black 22s is based on the true story of a brilliant African-American detective and one of America’s first all-black police squads in St. Louis, Missouri. Battling the gangland killers of Prohibition and set up to fail by their own bosses, they fought for justice during one of the most racially charged times in history, in a city that to this day is a flashpoint for racism and police brutality.
“The Black 22s is the black Untouchables,” Oyelowo said. “Our goal is to serve up a kinetic and vibrant show that displays the excitement and energy of America in the 1920s, with a cinematic punch.”
The script buy, which I hear has a significant penalty attached, marks one of the first major moves in the scripted space by National Geographic since the network brought in Carolyn Bernstein as EVP of Global Scripted Programming & Production at the beginning of the year. The cable net is expected to announce more scripted projects between now and its March 15 upfront.
“This pitch gave me goosebumps from beginning to end. It is a moving, muscular and resonant story that perfectly exemplifies the adage that truth is strange and more compelling than fiction,” said Bernstein. “It also represents the kind of timely and provocative storytelling that I hope will become a hallmark of Nat Geo’s new scripted initiative.”
Guyot originally developed the project and took it to Kung Fu Monkey.
“I’ve been researching and developing this story for years,” Guyot said. “The cast of true life characters is astounding, and I’m honored to bring their story of sacrifice and dedication to public attention.”
Rogers co-created long-running TNT series Leverage and created the network’s breakout The Librarians, serving as executive producer/showrunner on both. He also co-created and executive produced the NBC drama series The Player, which was produced by Kung Fu Monkey. The company also produced the animated Amazon pilot Everstar. Rogers and Kung Fu Monkey are repped by CAA, Thruline and Jackoway Tyerman.
Oyelowo, who also starred in Lee Daniels’ The Butler, is repped by CAA, Inphenate, Hamilton-Hodell and Schreck, Rose, Dapello, Adams.
Guyot has a longstanding relationship with Rogers. Guyot is a co-executive producer on The Librarians and served as a co-producer on Leverage. He is repped by UTA, Writ Large and Morris Yorn.
The Black 22s reunites Nalluri and Rogers. Nalluri previously directed the pilot for Rogers’ The Player. The helmer, who is directing the upcoming MI5 movie, is repped by WME. His US pilot credits also include the CW’s The 100, Emily Owens MD and the network’s current, untitled Mars project.