In The Mix

Making Over Mary Jane

A new showrunner takes the BET series to New York — and new ground.

Lisa Rosen
  • Ryan Gibson

Erica Shelton Kodish had just come off three years as coexecutive producer of The Good Wife, and, with the birth of her child, she was ready for a break. Until she got an unexpected call.

Gabrielle Union, star and executive producer of Being Mary Jane, wanted to meet with her. The BET show’s creator, Mara Brock Akil, had left for a deal at Warner Bros., and they needed a new showrunner.

On the series, Union plays Mary Jane, a successful cable-show host in Atlanta with a Type-A personality, messy family life and even messier relationships. Her efforts to balance them all make for a sexy, topical drama.

Kodish was a fan of the actress and the show, so she agreed to a general meeting. “I went in, not planning to work on the show,” Kodish says, “but I was absolutely charmed by Gabrielle, and some of the changes that she wanted to make. I walked out of the meeting thinking, ‘Wow! I should really consider this.’”

Once on board, finding the right tone was top priority. “It’s a serious drama, but it has some comedic elements, and it also has an edge. Hitting that balance is tricky.”

This is Kodish’s first time steering a show. “I definitely benefited from having risen through the ranks. I worked under a number of fantastic showrunners, so I had a lot of good experiences to draw upon. But I wasn’t naïve about how big a job it is.”

It got even bigger. While the show’s first three seasons ran for 12 episodes, season four will have 20. It’s a vote of confidence from BET, she acknowledges with a note of amused dread in her voice. (And more than dread has arisen from the network decision; at press time Union had filed suit against BET for breach of contract in making this season almost twice as long as the previous ones.)

Season three ended with a cliffhanger involving police brutality and Mary Jane’s niece, Niecy (Raven Goodwin). Season four, premiering in January, picks up a year later. “We’ll see that what happened with Niecy in many ways brought the family together and changed the dynamics between them.”

Meanwhile, Mary Jane has moved to Manhattan and a new job. The fresh start will extend to her love life as well.

“One of the things that we are embracing with this reboot,” Kodish says, “is that Mary Jane recognizes that she may have been the conductor of her own unhappiness. Here is a perfect stage to try to reinvent herself.” Along with the show.

This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 10, 2016