By RODNEY HO/ email@example.com, originally filed Wednesday, December 30, 2015
In the 1990s as a teen, Brandy Norwood was a precocious, multi-faceted actor/singer. On top of a raft of R&B hits, she starred in her own sitcom "Moesha" for five years and a successful TV adaptation of "Cinderella."
Her star dimmed in the 2000s as the hits and acting opportunities dried up. She dabbled in reality TV, had a baby and settled lawsuits related to a car accident she was involved in that killed a driver. In 2010, she came in fourth on "Dancing With the Stars" and was soon cast in the BET revival of "The Game," her return to TV comedy shot in Atlanta.
After "The Game" ended last year, BET wanted to keep working with Brandy, now 36. She happened to be working on a project with Debra Martin Chase, an executive producer who helmed Brandy's "Cinderella" 18 years earlier. They conceived the idea of "Zoe Ever After," which is shot in Atlanta but set in New York City. It debuts Tuesday night at 10 p.m. for an eight-episode first season that was finished in just two and a half weeks this past fall.
"It’s always been a dream of mine to have another sitcom," Brandy told Ebony magazine. "I love television. During 'The Game,' the feeling was reawakened, and I really wanted to go after that again."
In "Zoe Ever After," Brandy plays Zoe Moon, who is about to divorce hot-shot philandering pro boxer Gemini Moon (Dorian Missick) and grapples with being single for the first time in two decades. She uses divorce money to start a cosmetics line.
In the first episode, Gemini's last gasp attempt to reunite fails. "You were living your dream," she told him. "I was 'Out of the way please! One with the champ please!' Do you know how it feels to be invisible?"
Chase, whose producing credits include "The Cheetah Girls" and "Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants," noted how rare it is for a black female to lead a sitcom. The two successful ones she can cite include Raven Symone's "That's So Raven" and "Moesha."
"This is in her DNA," Chase said. "And Zoe is a lot like Brandy. We asked Brandy if she wasn't in acting or singing, what would she like to do? And she said she would have been a make-up artist. So we have Zoe starting the cosmetics business."
For Chase, "this is a very character-driven romantic sitcom. The show is about Zoe finding her independence. In Gemini's shadow, she lost her voice and sense of self."
"She wants an imprint on the world beyond being someone's wife," said Danny Rose, another executive producer who has worked on shows such as "Cougar Town" and "Scrubs."
The producers purposely made Zoe's ex husband Gemini a dedicated father to their eight-year-old son and a charming guy to boot.
"Nobody wants to perpetuate the black father who abandons his kids," Chase said. "We're not at all in that direction."
And don't think Zoe is not immune to Gemini's charismatic aura even after the divorce.
"We're kind of on again, off again," said Missick, who boxed when he was younger. "They have a lot of history, going back to college. Zoe was there before Gemini was famous."
Missick, whose resume is heavily dramas, said this is his first sitcom. "Brandy is a pro," he said. "She's a joy to work with. I leaned on her heavily."
The odd downside of the low-budget approach is use of a post-production laugh track instead of a live audience. So he said the actors had to rely on the crew to gauge how funny a line was. "If they don't laugh, we'll try something else."
"Zoe After Ever," 10 p.m., Tuesday, January 5, 2016, BET (available online early on BET's new app on January 1.)