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Decatur native Erica Ash on new lead role in BET's 'In Contempt' (Tuesdays, 10 p.m.)

Posted Wednesday, May 9, 2018 by RODNEY HO/ on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

Erica Ash, a Decatur native, was both cool and fierce at the same time as supporting lead character M-Chuck on Starz's "Survivor's Remorse" where she proudly wore her lesbianism on her sleeve.

She plays a distinctly different character now as the lead of an ensemble BET lawyer drama "In Contempt." But as a public defender, Gwen Sullivan has that same steely resolve as M-Chuck, just used in a different way.

"M-Chuck was comedic with hints of seriousness," said Ash, who now lives in Los Angeles. "Gwen is more serious with little hints of comedy."

Although Ash said it was sad to say goodbye to "Survivor's Remorse," its cancellation enabled her to actually take on "In Contempt," which airs its seventh episode of 10 season one episodes on Tuesday, May 22 at 10 p.m.

" 'Survivor's Remorse' helped me make my bones," she said. "I didn't want to walk away from that if I could help it. Obviously having my own show and being the lead is the type of direction every actor wants to be in but you don't bite the hand that feeds you. I was sort of stuck in this conundrum, holding off, holding off, then Starz abruptly cancelled the show. There was no more choice to make. I'm in!"

What she liked about "In Contempt" was how it honestly portrays the challenges facing public defenders, who are often overworked and underappreciated and frequently labeled lazy and incompetent.

"We're seen as the bottom of the totem pole," Ash said. "It's unfortunate. Public defenders are often the smartest lawyers. They have to be crafty. They don't have the funds or the manpower or the resources to be able to easily fight a case. They have to be super creative."

Each episode portrays their judicial challenges often defending not-so-sympathetic defendants and how as individuals, they are painfully underpaid and are often barely able to get by financially.

While most of the leads are black, Gwen's closest  friend on the show and colleague Tracy (Megan Hutchings) is white. "She is a friend of mine who happens to be white," Ash said. "We have a language. We've been in this game together for a really long time. She knows my habits. I know hers. We have a really amazing relationship."

She also mentors tense newbie Vanessa (Mouna Traore) as a little sister and sleeps around with fellow attorney Charlie (Christian Keyes) while dealing with a condescending father Earl (Richard Lawson).

What's fascinating about "In Contempt" is the fact it has a black female lead and that fact is no longer all that newsworthy. Since ABC's "Scandal" broke a four-decade drought for black women in 2012 with Kerry Washington as the lead, several scripted dramas have led with black females including OWN's "Queen Sugar," ABC's "How To Get Away With Murder," BET's "Being Mary Jane" and BET's "The Quad."

"It's wonderful to see these powerful women sitting atop one another's shoulders and helping to hoist others of us up," Ash said. "We can stand on theirs and stand on ours and keep it going. It's high time!"

This series was created by Terri Kopp , who spent years as an executive producer of "Law & Order" and that DNA is clearly evident on "In Contempt." She also worked on "E.R."

"It's got the same nice fast pace of E.R. and certainly the quality," Ash said. "It's even more fun and sexy and young and diverse. I'm happy to be able to show a more diverse type of law procedural that encompasses the other side."

Like on "Law & Order," "In Contempt" cases are frequently based on real situations. The fifth episode featured a woman who beat her nine-year-old son in public after he drove a car and crashed it. It was caught on video and Gwen and Tracy faced a skeptical jury while trying to prove this woman's actions were justified.

Ash said social media commentary about the show has been hugely positive.

"When you're telling the truth and talking about things that are very current and relevant, it's hard to argue with that. Even if someone didn't like Charlie or Vanessa or Gwen, they can't argue with the authenticity," she said.


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About the Author

Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.