USA Network has put in development Philly Reign, a 1980s drama executive produced by Mary J. Blige. It hails from Entertainment One and UCP and is also executive produced by JaNeika & JaSheika James (Empire), Drew Comins via his eOne-based Creative Engine Entertainment and Charles Murray (Sons of Anarchy). Blige, who was just tapped as star of a Power spinoff series at Starz, will not headline Philly Reign, which had been developed as a potential starring vehicle for her, but may have a supporting/recurring role.
Written by JaNeika & JaSheika James, Philly Reign is inspired by the life of Thelma Wright, with her self-published memoir, With Eyes From Both Sides: Living My Life In and Out of the Game optioned as source material.
The drama showcases the crimes one woman committed in the name of real love. From suburban housewife to drug queenpin in under five years, the death of Wright’s husband left her two choices: let her family starve — or take over the family business. With equal parts grit and grace, she forces her way to the top of the international drug game to build one of the largest cocaine and heroin operations of the 1980’s.
Comins and eOne met with Blige after her Oscar-nominated performance in the 2017 Mudbound to gauge her interest in headlining a TV series. She expressed interest in doing a story of a female gangster, and the producers set out to develop the idea with her. They zeroed in on the true story of Thelma Wright who, following the 1977 murder of her husband, a major player in the Philadelphia drug game, became a gangster queen of the Pensilvania city, transporting cocaine and heroin between Los Angeles and Philadelphia.
Like with Judy Smith and Scandal, Wright’s story is informing Philly Reign, which is a fictional series that echoes Queen of the South, Breaking Bad and Weeds. Empire writer-producers JaNeika & JaSheika James were brought in to pen the project, which was taken out, landing in a competitive situation at USA, home of Queen of the South. While the series was being pitched and set up, Blige became unavailable to star as she signed on to headline a Power spinoff series on Starz where she also is believed to be playing a drug boss. She remains an executive producer on Philly Reign and could take on a supporting/recurring role similar to 50 Cent’s involvement on Power.
Thelma Wright and Jacky Wright will serve as co-executive producers of Philly Reign. Ashaunna Ayars and Q. Nicole Jackson will co-executive produce on behalf of Blige’s Blue Butterfly Productions.
Blige is repped APA, The Lede Company, and Grubman Shire & Meiselas. JaNeika & JaSheika James are repped by Industry Entertainment and attorneys Duncan Hedges and Lauren Partipilo.