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Nat Geo’s ‘Genius’ Finds Showrunner for Aretha Franklin Season

TCA 2019: Playwright Suzan-Lori Parks to pen miniseries about the Queen of Soul

National Geographic has tapped playwright Suzan-Lori Parks as writer and showrunner of the Aretha Franklin-focused third season of the scripted anthology “Genius,” the network announced on Sunday.

The series, based on the life and career of the late Queen of Soul, is set to begin filming this summer for a 2020 premiere. It follows two previous seasons starring Geoffrey Rush as Albert Einstein and Antonio Banderas as Pablo Picasso, marking the first time the series will center on a woman. A previously announced season focusing on “Frankenstein” author Mary Shelley remains in development.

Parks, who took home a Pulitzer for her play “Topdog/Underdog,” will be joined by record producer Clive Davis and Atlantic Records Chairman and CEO Craig Kallman as executive producers. Warner Music Group has joined Fox 21 Television Studios and Imagine Entertainment to produce the third season.

With the label’s participation, the series will feature many of Franklin’s songs and recordings, including “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You),” “Chain of Fools,” “Don’t Play That Song,” “Since You’ve Been Gone” and “Baby I Love You.” It will also feature Franklin’s performances of “I Knew You Were Waiting for Me,” “Freeway of Love” and “Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves.”

Imagine’s Brian Grazer, Ron Howard and Francie Calfo; Gigi Pritzker and Rachel Shane of MWM Studios; and Sam Sokolow of EUE/Sokolow Entertainment are executive producers. Imagine’s Anna Culp will serve as producer alongside Peter Afterman.

“Aretha Franklin had the ability to empower generations through her iconic music, and I’m excited to finally be able to tell her story, a career passion of mine. All through her life she used her voice to elevate people and the causes she believed in, especially the women’s and civil rights movements,” said Grazer. “You can hear the hopes and sorrows of a divided nation in her soulful voice, penetrating and motivating people at their core in a deeply emotional way. She cut through the pain of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination to help heal and unite America with her music and, in the process, ushered in the post-gospel era of rhythm and blues. We’re so grateful she shared her genius with the world.”

“Aretha and I shared a 40-year friendship, ever since she cooked me dinner to talk about working together to reinvigorate her career,” said Davis. “I am forever grateful to have had the opportunity to collaborate with her and her incredible instrument. She was a gift to the world, one that will last for many generations. I am thrilled to be celebrating her genius with Brian Grazer, Ron Howard and Imagine.”

Parks’ other work includes “In the Blood” (Pulitzer Prize finalist), “The Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess” (Tony Award winner), “Father Comes Home from the Wars, Parts 1, 2 and 3” (Pulitzer Prize finalist) and “Unchain My Heart: The Ray Charles Musical.” Most recently, she wrote the screenplay for the feature film “Native Son,” which was acquired by HBO in advance of its premiere at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival.