TV show resurrections are nothing new — TNT saved Southland, CBS saved Medium — but a comeback after two years in the grave?
"You don't see those too often. Usually, the longer it takes, the less likely it is. But here we are. The Game is alive and kicking!" creator and executive producer Mara Brock Akil tells TVGuide.com. "It's been a long journey, but I wouldn't have it any other way."
Nearly two years after CW pulled the plug, the comedy about football players and the women who love them, makes its improbable return Tuesday on BET with two episodes — thanks mostly, Brock Akil says, to the devoted fans. "In a sense, we felt buried alive because we felt we had so much in the show creatively. I can only imagine being buried alive and you start hearing people digging you out! 'Yes, I'm in here!'" Brock Akil says. "We are very, very excited. We want to do well, not only for ourselves and the network, but especially for the fans."
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Debuting in 2006, The Game, a spin-off of Girlfriends, was the CW's only sitcom in the network's inaugural season. Three years later, the network axed the 30-minute sitcom as part of an overhaul focusing on one-hour shows. In a last-ditch effort, Brock Akil tried revamping The Game into a one-hour dramedy, but the CW didn't bite. "What was even beautiful about that was that the fans got wind that I was going to pitch the show to the CW as an hour and they gathered millions of fans on the CW's website to prove the audience value of the show, but I think it was a lot too late," Brock Akil says.
Enter BET. After reruns of The Game garnered record ratings for the cable network in syndication, Loretha Jones, BET's president of original programming, reached out to Brock Akil and her husband, showrunner Salim Akil, about reviving the show in its original half-hour form. "I don't think we thought it would take a year, but we knew Loretha was going to get it done," Brock Akil says.
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To show that everyone involved "never stopped living The Game," all the actors re-signed, including Coby Bell, who joined Burn Notice in the interim. But there were a few changes when production resumed in October. For one, BET committed to 13 episodes, instead of the broadcaster's usual 22 — a mutual decision to have "quality control," Brock Akil says. The show also moved shooting locations from Los Angeles to Atlanta, where the episodes were filmed out of order like a movie after all 13 scripts arrived. "We've never done that," Brock Akil says. "It's not the best way to shoot comedy. Comedy is a very in-the-moment set-up. A lot of times, you're changing jokes and lines. It's a little difficult, but that also speaks to the talent of Salim and Kenny Smith, our head writer."
Getting back into the groove proved to be anything but difficult. "Everybody had their game face on, so to speak," she says. "Second chances — you hear about people having these near-death experiences and it changes their lives. They're more appreciative. They're more passionate and life and what's important. Here was a second chance for us. We were dead. It was over. It was on another level. I think our creativity was able to soar and it had to because our budget was less. You have to be more creative."
So where does The Game find Derwin, Melanie & Co. in Season 4? Mirroring life, the show picks up two years later. Melanie (Tia Mowry Hardict) has voluntarily put her residency on hold to be superstar Derwin's wife, but suspects D.J., the son Derwin (Pooch Hall) had with Janay, is not his. Playboy Malik (Hosea Chanchez) having an affair with the wife of the San Diego Sabers team owner, while his mom, Tasha (Wendy Raquel Robinson), is having her own fling with a younger guy. And Jason (Bell) and Kelly (Brittany Daniel)? The divorced pair is still at each other's throats.
"It's so funny trying to keep up with life. In the pitch to the CW, I pitched that Kelly was going to have a reality series — Ex-Ballers Wives — and I think a year later Basketball Wives premiered and now there's Football Wives and everybody else's wives!" Brock Akil says. "I just felt, 'Oh my gosh! It looks like we copied them.' But really, I pitched this two years ago! But it's OK. Because people now know what those shows are. It makes the fact that she's doing it even funnier."
BET bringing back The Game
Feeling "at home" on BET, Brock Akil says she anticipates success with The Game's long-awaited return. "When a network is proud of a show, it gets other people excited," she says. "With all due respect for the CW, them believing in us creatively allowed us to garner an audience. In terms of a better fit, any time you're wanted, you're ahead of the game. We belong here."
And are they wanted for a fifth season? The producer, who worked on Cougar Town during its first season, suspects a renewal is in the offing — one that probably can't come soon enough for the fans.
"I don't think we or they are going to have to wait that long [to hear about a renewal]," Brock Akil says. "I just have to say 'thank you' to all the fans.Thank you. Thank you. They're simple words, but they really express what we all should be, which is grateful. Nobody owes you anything. Nobody has to sign up on a Facebook page, nobody has to watch, so thank you. And enjoy The Game!"
The Game premieres Tuesday at 10/9c on BET.