Do a cursory search on Mara Brock Akil’s name and what invariably comes up is some version of “TV writer” and/or “producer.”
Yet when it comes to the popular television series she’s created for more than a decade, Brock Akil’s power is all-encompassing — and almost unprecedented for a woman in Hollywood.
Now 45, Brock Akil had spent several years writing for “Moesha” and “The Jamie Foxx Show” when she created “Girlfriends” in 2000. The sitcom about four accomplished and yet refreshingly imperfect African-American women in their 20s aired for eight seasons on UPN (and later the CW network), with Brock Akil serving as executive producer. It was the same thing with “The Game,” her “Girlfriends” spinoff that ran for nine seasons (the last six on BET, which moved filming from California to Atlanta); and with “Being Mary Jane,” the hit drama starring Gabrielle Union as a TV news anchor, also shot here, that BET recently renewed for a fourth season.
In TV, the real power lies with the “showrunner” (as Brock Akil’s EP role is more commonly known). The deck is still stacked against women getting that job, which makes what Shonda Rhimes has done — she’s been creator/showrunner of “Scandal,” “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Private Practice” — so impressive.
But now consider this: “Girlfriends” arrived on TV five years before “Grey’s” and “Shondaland” were a glimmer in ABC’s eye.
Brock Akil’s success has been contagious: BET has shot numerous other series here since “The Game,” which the influential industry website Deadline called a “game changer” for the network; “Being Mary Jane” was a top 5 scripted cable series in season three.
And now the powerful production company behind megahits like “Friends,” “ER” and “The Big Bang Theory” wants in. Brock Akil and her director husband, Salim Akil, recently signed a deal to develop new series for Warner Bros. TV.