Starz’s Kathryn Busby On Expanding Diverse Storytelling, Re-Teaming With Sean Penn & “Special” ‘Party Down’ Revival
It’s been nine months since then-head of TriStar Television Kathryn Busby was named President Of Original Programming for Starz. In her first nine months on the job, Busby has embraced and expanded the network’s existing programming commitment to narratives by, about and for women and underrepresented audiences as well as its #TakeTheLead Initiative to amplify diverse voices.
“One of the things that excited me most about joining Starz is they have really shown that deep commitment to delivering programming for, by, and about women and underrepresented voices,” Busby said in an interview with Deadline. “That’s what I was trying to do and working to do at TriStar, so it really felt like an opportunity to join a company that wasn’t just talking the talk but was walking the walk.”
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Hit shows targeting female and Black audiences that Busby inherited include the flagship Power franchise, whose Raising Kanan series is returning for a second season this weekend; the long-running Outlander, which also is on track to become a franchise with the introduction of a prequel, Blood of My Blood, now in development; P-Valley, as well as a string of historical limited series about female royals kicked off by the 2013 The White Queen, with the latest installments, Becoming Elizabeth and The Serpent Queen, airing this year.
The projects Busby has put in development since coming to Starz include an Ava DuVernay romantic drama starring and executive produced by Lauren Ridloff and Joshua Jackson as two very different people — one person is ambitious, the other is restless, one is ready to commit, the other not, one is Black and one is white, one is deaf and one is not — who fall in love.
“Ava DuVernay is creating this wonderful romance between Lauren Ridloff, who was the first deaf superhero in The Eternals, and Josh Jackson. And it’s really a show about what it takes a couple to fall in love and stay in love except for us, it’s an opportunity to do love from the point of race, physical ability, disability, and class,” Busby said. “That to me is a perfect example of the kind of show that I’m dying to do, that I can’t believe my good fortune that I get to do it, and that we get to work with a trailblazer like Ava DuVernay. And how about the fact that the last love story created from a deaf point of view was Children of a Lesser God? Do you know how long ago that was? It really feels like this is what Starz can do well.”
Busby also has brought back into the Starz fold for a new project, Lovesong, Tanya Saracho, creator of one of the network’s first series under the diverse/female voices initiative, Vida, which ran for three seasons.
“Imagine a story about two Mexican American best friends, women, who both fall in love with the same man. Except this man is a musician and this is happening in London,” Busby said. “So that for me is a way to do an elevated premium commercial show set in London that speaks to our Latin American audience. And because it’s about young love, and coolness, it’s going to be universal.”
Starz this week announced a Marlon Wayans semi-autobiographical comedy in development, The Book of Marlon.
“This is just a big win for us,” Busby said. “Marlon Wayans is so talented, and such a great star for Starz, and with a particularly hilarious show, very premium and very universal in terms of telling the story of a man with an ex-wife.”
Going forward, Starz’s existing focus on female and Black viewers with shows like BMF, Blindspotting, Shining Vale and the upcoming Run the World, will continue.
“I’m just looking for more stories that will resonate and that will have legs but really continue to double down on those two audiences,” Busby said. She indicated that we may also see more prestige series like recent limited series Gaslit, headlined by Oscar winners Julia Roberts and Sean Penn.
“I think the direction that we want to move into is that we want to be even more premium and more critically acclaimed, but we want to remain commercial and entertaining—that’s important,” she said. “We want to have more A-list talent in front of and behind the camera.”
That may include Penn who, according to sources, has been talking to Starz about another period series.
“What I can say is that Sean and Julia had a really wonderful experience working on Gaslit, and that it’s a show that we are all enormously proud of—and we absolutely loved working with them,” Busby said. “And it is true, that like other producers, like Tanya Saracho and [Blindspotting‘s] Rafael Casal, Sean did come back to us and did say, this feels like a good home. So we are in discussions on doing another project that Sean has brought in. I’m not at liberty to discuss the details especially because we’re still negotiating but Sean came in as a producer with the project.”
There also will be an expansion in the types of underserved audiences Starz caters to.
“When we talk about diverse shows and organically diverse shows, we want diversity to include all underrepresented groups, so we really feel like there’s room to grow in those directions,” Busby said. “We want to expand our Black shows and our female shows and we want to do more Latin American shows and Asian American shows and LGBTQ. When we say underrepresented, we really mean all underrepresented, and for me, there’s potential there. There are so many more stories that haven’t come in yet and they’re coming in because people know that Starz puts its money where its mouth is and that’s exciting. It’s really why I got into television in the first place.”
Earlier today, Deadline broke the news of Starz developing Asian American comedy series Plan A from the Dear White People trio of Steven J. Kung, Justin Simien and Leann Bowen.
During her Sony TV tenure, Busby spent time shepherding scripted series — including co-productions — that were delivered at an attractive price point, including Absentia starring Stana Katic. Amid the current industrywide effort to contain production costs, she plans to use her experience to diversify Starz’s slate in that aspect.
“We are definitely looking at different models and different levels of budgets for production,” Busby said. “And while we take some very big swings to make sure that we are in the premium space, we also love auteur-driven, indie-feeling, co-productions; we do a lot of co-productions with Europe, especially with our Queen series. So we’re open to both.”
She gave an example with a not yet announced series “which is going to be produced in Mexico City that’s going to be in English and in Spanish, and it would definitely be more of an indie model.”
Starz has three high-profile upcoming series based on IP from the network or its sister studio, Lionsgate, John Wick prequel The Continental starring Mel Gibson, a new season of Step Up, which had previously been on YouTube, and a revival of cult comedy Party Down.
Busby would not divulge details about the release plans for Step Up beyond saying that “the date will be announced soon” and would not comment on how late Step Up star Naya Rivera will be honored or whether John Wick star Keanu Reaves makes a cameo appearance on The Continental.
She also wouldn’t say whether Lizzy Caplan, the only original Party Down cast member who could not return for the revival because of a scheduling conflict, was able to do a cameo. Still, she had a message for fans.
“I can give no spoilers about Party Down but I can tell you that if you were a fan of Party Down, you will be so in love with the new Party Down,” she said. “And what’s especially exciting about the episodes is there is an electricity in the air because these actors are reunited and you can feel the joy coming from their work. It’s really really special and wonderful.”
Peter White and Rosy Cordero contributed to this story.
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