Genius, which comes from Imagine Television and Fox 21 TV Studios, was renewed for a third season in April, with author Mary Shelley revealed as its subject, to follow Albert Einstein and Picasso. I hear that installment remains in development.
I hear the idea for doing a Franklin-centered Genius came together quickly and was spearheaded by Imagine’s Brian Grazer. While sources close to the matter caution that there are still hurdles in securing all the rights necessary, I hear that everyone involved feels optimistic, and they are moving full-steam ahead with a potential Aretha Franklin third season while deals are being hammered out.
Imagine has done multiple projects about iconic music artists, including the award-winning documentary The Beatles: Eight Days A Week – The Touring Years, the film Get On Up about James Brown and the just announced scripted series Wu-Tang: An American Saga.
Grazer is executive producing Genius with Ron Howard and Francie Calfo of Imagine TV. Others who have served as executive producers on the anthology include Ken Biller as well as Gigi Pritzker and Rachel Shane of MWM Studios and Sam Sokolow and Jeff Cooney of EUE/Sokolow.
Franklin has the outsized talent and remarkable story that make her tailor-made for a Genius treatment. The daughter of a Baptist minister and an accomplished piano player and singer, Franklin was a musical prodigy, learning how to play the piano by ear at a very young age. As a child, she went through the dissolution of her parents’ marriage and her mother’s death. By the age of 10, Franklin already was performing at her father’s church in Detroit, rubbing shoulders with a slew of visiting celebrities such as Clara Ward, James Cleveland, Martin Luther King Jr., Jackie Wilson and Sam Cooke. Franklin would later tour with King and ultimately sing at his funeral in 1968.
Franklin was a music superstar whose career spanned more than half a century. She was a trailblazer. Her blending of gospel, pop, standards, R&B and blues all but defined what would become known as soul. She was one of the most honored artists in Grammy history, winning 18 Grammy awards, and became the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. More than 100 of her songs made the Billboard charts, including “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)”, “Chain of Fools”, “(Sweet Sweet Baby) Since You’ve Been Gone”, “Don’t Play That Song (You Lied)”, and “Day Dreaming”.
Franklin, a Kennedy Center Honoree, delivered memorable performances for Queen Elizabeth at Royal Albert Hall in London and at the inaugurations of Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.
It is not unusual for anthology series based on real people and events to switch gears and swap installments because of rights issues, timelines, source material, scripts or other reasons. At FX, for example, Katrina was originally announced as a followup to People v. O.J. Simpson in the American Crime Story franchise, also produced by Fox 21, before Versace was fast-tracked and went on the air, winning multiple Emmy awards last month.
There is definitely a timelines element to doing Franklin’s story now. Months after her death, the music icon continues to be on everyone’s mind with a slew of star-studded tributes, most recently at the American Music Awards earlier this week, and a big concert coming in November at the Madison Square Garden.
The first season of Genius, starring Geoffrey Rush as Albert Einstein, was Nat Geo’s best performing new series launch ever, drawing more than 45 million viewers worldwide. The series earned ten Emmy nominations, a Golden Globe nomination and SAG Award nomination.
Season 2, Genius: Picasso, starring Antonio Banderas as Pablo Picasso, received five Emmy nominations, including limited series and lead actor for Banderas, winning two for cinematography and sound mixing, along with Golden Globe and SAG nominations.