Charles Barkley looks at ‘American Race’ on TNT starting May 11

This was originally posted Saturday, May 6, 2017 by Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

I’m on vacation from May 5 to May 16 so I am not posting any breaking news at that time. In the interim, I am posting a few things I wrote in advance. If you are seeking breaking entertainment news, check out Jenn Brett’s buzz column at buzz.blog.ajc.com or Melissa Ruggieri’s music.blog.ajc.com

NBA legend and TNT basketball analyst Charles Barkley has never been short on opinions about any topic and he’d occasionally make headlines, such as calling the 2014 Ferguson rioters “scumbags.”

In a sense, he would seem to be a most unlikely figure to do a four-part series on the very sensitive subject of race. But Atlanta-based TNT is giving him four hours to do just that on a show dubbed “American Race.” (Originally, it was called “The Race Card.”)

“In this country, we don’t like to talk about race. But race gets into everything, whether we like it or not,” Barkley told a crowd at a screening in Baltimore, where tensions between police and many in the black community remain high, especially after the death of Freddie Gray in 2015. And Barkley doesn’t escape hostility himself. During a town hall in Baltimore that was taped for his show, many in the crowd jeered him for meeting with the police.

This is not a weekly series. Rather, the first episode airs after the NBA playoffs Sunday at about 11:30 p.m. on TNT. On Monday, all four episodes will be available on demand, or on the TNT app. Then TNT’ will air the four episodes over two nights on May 11 and 12 at 9 and 10 p.m.

Dan Partland, executive producer who has worked on shows such as A&E’s “Intervention” and CNNs “The Sixties,” said he had been talking with Barkley about doing a very different TV show but after the Ferguson uprising in 2014, they decided to switch gears and tackle race. Given Barkley’s busy schedule, it took time to put it together, he said.

Besides Baltimore, Barkley visited three other cities: Dallas to talk to Muslim Americans, Los Angeles to tackle entertainment and race and Atlanta to look at immigration.

With immigration, Partland said, “we wanted to show a side of the issue that was very human and very surprising . We were trying hard to steer clear of stereotypes. We spent time talking to the undocumented community right here in Atlanta.” (It helps that Barkley spends a lot of time doing TNT coverage in Atlanta.)

Partland acknowledges Barkley’s “opinionated and emphatic nature. But the truth is Charles is very open minded. Charles has a big heart.” Barkley, he said, is not an expert but sought to learn from different perspectives.

And Partland noted Barkley’s rags-to-riches background: “He grew up poor in rural Alabama, raised by his grandmother and a single mom. He is now an international celebrity. That pretty much travels the full gamut of privilege. He has the ability to engage people and meet them at their own level where he is. There is no room he’s uncomfortable in.”

Barkley, he said, genuinely wants to bridge differences in a world where people seem to be self selecting where they live and who they hang out with based on race, politics and economic strata. “It’s part of human nature to fear differences,” he said. “We want to show real people and real circumstances.”

Given that the episode airs after an NBA game, Partland hopes many stick around for Barkley’s show. “People may love him or not. But they’ll see a very different picture of him.”

Ultimately, Partland said, “it was a very powerful experience for everyone who worked on it, who were exposed to new people and ideas and things. We look forward to sharing some of that experience with the audience.”

 


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