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‘Fanny’ – The Sitcom That Lee Daniels and Oprah Winfrey Almost Made Together

'Fanny' - The Sitcom That Lee Daniels and Oprah Winfrey Almost Made Together

I lifted this from an interview with Mark Itkin, veteran TV agent and partner at WME, published on The Hollywood Reporter’s website today, in which he discusses, quite candidly, his 3 decades in the industry, trials, triumphs, etc.

One of the questions Itkin is asked is about projects he was involved with that “got away,” and this is what he said in reply: “I thought Lee Daniels was going to do one with Oprah once, and then they had some issues and it didn’t happen. It was a sitcom called ‘Fanny.’ It was about this black housekeeper from Arkansas who worked for a famous Brentwood couple. They loved her and she loved them, and they become family. Then one day, Fanny gets a call from the state of Arkansas. Her grandmother left her some land and now the state was going to buy it. She comes back from a trip home and says, ‘I’s rich!’ She got $5 million. But she didn’t want to leave the family, so she buys a big, expensive house across the street from them in Brentwood and walks to work every day as their maid. It’s a true story.”

Why didn’t the project move forward? According to Itkin: “I was on a call with them, and then something happened between them. They got back together and did ‘Precious,’ but [‘Fanny’] never materialized.”

Let me first say that, while Itkin says it’s a true story, and that Daniels and Oprah loved the idea, I’m glad this is one of his projects that “got away.” This would’ve been a terrible idea, in my opinion, for what should be very obvious reasons, and I don’t understand how Daniels and Oprah initially thought it was a great idea and would sell! Although, maybe I should take that back; Tyler Perry’s sitcoms have all been hits, and continue to be, even though many of *us* reject them entirely. So I’m sure “Fanny” would’ve found its audience. 

Worth noting, this would’ve come 2 years before “The Help” (a film that was a surprise blockbuster – relative to budget – grossing a whopping $170 million domestically!). But, really, talk about stereotypical: a black housekeeper (likely amiable, obviously loyal, maternal, non-threatening, or possibly sassy), working for a rich family (I’m assuming it’s a white family. If you’re familiar with the real story it’s based on, and I’m incorrect, feel free to correct me in the comments section), who so loves and is devoted to her employers as if her primary goal in life is to care for their needs, and is so attached to them that, even after she wins the lottery, she just can’t let go, because she apparently has no family of her own, since the rich family is her family. And so she buys a house next to theirs and continues working for them, even though “I’s rich.”

I don’t want to seem disrespectful to the real-life woman that this series would’ve been based on, but there are countless and varied stories about black people (real or fiction) – that have never been considered – to base TV shows on; so why continue to settle on defaults? 

Itkin says the project may not be dead, adding: “There’s a treatment. It’s still in my drawer and someday someone will do it.”

Let’s hope not.

I searched for any mention of the real-life version of the story but couldn’t immediately find anything online. Maybe someone reading this who is familiar can chime in.

Read the full interview with Itkin here.

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