BEVERLY HILLS – Basketball superstar LeBron James isn’t getting too far ahead of himself with his latest off-court project, the hoops-related comedy Survivor’s Remorse (Starz, Oct. 4, 9 p.m. ET/PT).
When friend and fellow executive producer Maverick Carter talked about possible stories for Season 6, half-jokingly assuming a long run for the half-hour series, James acknowledged TV success is no easy layup. At a Tuesday premiere screening at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, he reminded a supportive audience of an earlier statement he made about multiple NBA championships for his former team, the Miami Heat.
“What (Maverick) said about Season 6 – Last time I said, ‘Not one, not two, not three, not four …,’ that … didn’t go over too well,” he said, drawing laughter with a reference to a memorable Heat rally with fellow stars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. James, who recently signed a deal to return to the Cleveland Cavaliers, led the Heat to two championships and four NBA finals during four seasons in Miami.
James and Carter joined executive producers Mike O’Malley and Tom Werner, who also produced the groundbreaking Cosby Show, for a discussion after a screening of two episodes of Remorse, which looks at what happens to pro basketball star Cam Calloway (Jessie T. Usher) and his friends and family after he signs a huge contract with Atlanta. TNT broadcaster and former NBA player Kenny Smith moderated the panel.
The pay-cable show’s title refers to the guilt felt by a young man who doesn’t forget his poor upbringing in Boston even as he now flies in private jets and lives a life of luxury. Although the series is fictional and not about James, the Akron, Ohio, native can relate to the experience of the show’s main character.
“I was 17 years old and I received a seven-year, $100 million contract” from Nike, said James, looking dapper in a gray suit, red turtleneck and white sneakers. “Everybody in my hometown thought they had received a seven-year deal for $100 million.”
Finding himself on the receiving end of many requests, James said he had to learn to say no to people, including his mother, Gloria, who “is everything to me.”
“If I said no to my mother, I could say no to anybody,” he said.
Remorse mixes comedy and drama as it follows big life changes for Cam; his cousin and top adviser, Reggie Vaughn (RonReaco Lee); and other family members: his mother, Cassie (Tichina Arnold); his sister M-Chuck (Erica Ash); and his uncle, Julius (Mike Epps). Teyonah Parris plays Reggie’s wife, Missy.
O’Malley, who has written for Shameless and acted in Glee, said working with James has been “a real thrill.”
“A lot of the reason the show got picked up is because of his involvement,” he said after the panel. “To have him have enough pride that he wants to support the idea and be out there saying, ‘This is something I want to be involved in,’ is a major thing. … At the end of the day, I know that he’s happy and Maverick is happy and that they had a concept of a show they wanted to do and to have executed it and have something that they’re proud of is pretty amazing.”
One of the screened episodes revolves around the snowballing controversy that follows Cassie’s public comments about striking a young Cam with a section of Hot Wheels track and an extension cord, a fictional story that coincides with NFL star Adrian Peterson’s real-life troubles stemming from corporal punishment of his son.
“This is the intersection famous people have with the media,” O’Malley said of the plot. “Their life is no longer their own. And part of the contract that they sign is to live up to expectations. You have to really be careful about the mistakes that you make.”
Werner, who also is chairman of the Boston Red Sox, says Remorse shows real, flawed people dealing with issues of family, greed and gratitude and, in the process, growing up.
“The success of any good show is that it’s authentic. This show is equally relevant,” he said, alluding to a point of similarity between Remorse and the iconic Cosby. In other ways, the shows are much different, as the adult-oriented Remorse features profanity and nudity.
James said he has surrounded himself with people he trusts, including Carter and colleagues at his marketing company, LRMR, and that it has worked out well.
“I’ve always wanted to empower the people around me,” he said.