The cardinal rule of Hollywood: never spend your own money. But playwright turned actor/director Tyler Perry has built an empire bucking Tinseltown's conventions. So when the man known to millions as smack-talking grandma Madea came up with a sitcom idea, he didn't even try to convince network execs that it would make a great show. Instead he showed them, by using $5 million of his own money to shoot 10 episodes about a large and boisterous working-class family forced by a series of unlucky circumstances to squeeze into one very crowded house.
His gamble paid off, and on June 6 at 9 pm/ET, new episodes of that show — Tyler Perry's House of Payne — will debut on TBS. The premiere comes less than a year after Perry made one of the most lucrative deals in TV history by selling TBS the right to air 100 still-to-be-shot episodes for $200 million. Not bad for a guy who was homeless about 12 years ago.
"Coming off being homeless, I wanted something that would speak to people," says Perry, who now owns an 8,550-square-foot house in Beverly Hills and a mansion and production studio in Atlanta. "I have a bunch of writers working for me. We've written up to [Episode] 50. We talk about everything that needs to be discussed in the African-American community." Perry's rags-to-riches success story has been an inspiration to many. But his plays and movies — including Diary of a Mad Black Woman and Madea's Family Reunion, which together grossed more than $110 million — often anger critics. Earlier this year, some African-American groups accused Perry, along with Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence — three men who dress as loudmouthed, obese grannies — of making it rich off modern-day mammy characters.
"It's totally preposterous!" counters Perry, who reaches for his wig again when he makes a guest appearance in Payne's first episode as his now-infamous alter ego. "Madea is what I use to pay homage to many strong African-American women," he adds. "There are millions of people who respect and appreciate what the character has to say."
Perry counts his pal and mentor Oprah Winfrey among those millions. After all, it was an episode of her show that inspired the New Orleans native to start the journal that became his first stage hit, I Know I've Been Changed. "It's really great to have somebody you've admired celebrate you and invite you onto the show that changed your life," says Perry, who's been a guest on Oprah four times."That's really profound." It's also the gain before the Payne.
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