Former Good Wife writer Courtney Kemp Agbohs show about an African-American antihero is setting ratings records for Starz.
* POWER. 9 p.m. Saturday, Starz.
COURTNEY Kemp Agboh did not grow up on the mean streets of anywhere.
A former writer on "The Good Wife" who reminds reporters, "I'm from Connecticut, guys," Agboh once seemed an unlikely creator for "Power," a show about an up-from-the-streets drug lord named James "Ghost" St. Patrick (Omari Hardwick) whose dream is to own nightclubs.
"I walked in and [Starz CEO Chris Albrecht] took a chance on an African-American, female showrunner," said Agboh in an interview during a Starz party a few months ago. "Ultimately, at the end of the day, taking a chance on 'Power' is taking a chance on me."
It's a bet that's paid off for Starz, which Friday announced it had signed Agboh to an exclusive deal to develop new shows for Starz while continuing with "Power."
The show, which features the music of another of its executive producers, rapper Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson (who also has a recurring role on the show), was renewed last week for a third season after returning June 6 to record ratings for the network.
In its first season, it boasted the highest percentage of African-American viewers of any premium cable show since HBO's "The Wire," a show that Albrecht also oversaw in his days running HBO.
The real power of "Power," though, is that, like Fox's "Empire," it's putting African-Americans at the heart of a TV trend - the antihero - that until now has largely been the province of white men.
"I'm more interested in telling 'Godfather,' 'Sopranos,' 'Breaking Bad' kind of stories," Agboh said. "I'm finally getting to do that. And that is because of Chris, and Carmi [Zlotnik, Starz's managing director]. They encouraged me. They allowed me to get out of that mold" in which African-American characters were either generic bad guys or exemplary good ones.
Hardwick's "Ghost," who's cheating on his wife, Tasha (Naturi Naughton), with former sweetheart Angela Valdez (Lela Loren) - who also happens to be a fed who could bring down his empire - isn't a good guy.
But like Tony Soprano, Walter White of "Breaking Bad" and Terrence Howard's Lucious Lyon in "Empire," he has his reasons.
"He's a guy who does a lot of bad things, but, hopefully, what people identify with and love about Ghost is that he's trying to be a better man, you know, that he really is trying to go from bad to good," Agboh said. "And I think that all of us have that. All of us have, 'Can I change myself? Can I be different? Can I be better?' "
Jackson, who flirted with the idea of playing Ghost himself before he realized the time involved, saw his onscreen role expand in Season 2, with his character, Kanan, now out of prison.
Music is still his priority for the show, he told reporters at a Starz press conference in January. "I wanted to create an actual piece that had moments that the music spoke for it, you know, and because I was so immersed into it in the very beginning, with Courtney, I wrote 11 songs."
"When I started writing it," said Agboh, "he had given me music that I was listening to already to start writing. So we actually sort of . . . would cross. He would give me a piece of music, and then I would send him something to read, and we'd go back and forth with it."
Still a fan of her former show, "The Good Wife," where, she said, "I really learned to tell a story," Agboh's relishing the freedom that premium cable offers.
"Broadcast is so hard," she said. "I can show sex and I can go to violence and I don't have to 'suggest' anything and I don't have those act breaks" for commercials.
And she can talk more directly to what Starz's Albrecht has described as an "underserved" audience.
"There are some aspects of the story of 'Power' that clearly are about race, in the sense that, any one of us now who's black and was raised in this country, was raised with a lie, which is, 'You can never be president.' That's not true," Agboh said.
"Any one of us who is 50 years of age or younger could have been president. So, Ghost's whole idea that he couldn't have done any other [thing] to be sucessful than be in the drug trade? That ain't true, son. You made a choice. And that's what the show is about. The show is about the choice."