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Before ‘Empire’ There Was ‘Empire’… Errr… I mean ‘Platinum’ – Do You Remember It?

Before 'Empire' There Was 'Empire'... Errr... I mean 'Platinum' - Do You Remember It?

It’s not a series that I watched, or even heard of at the time it was on the air, 12 years ago, in 2003. I was having a chat with an acquaintance who mentioned it, during a conversation we were having about “Empire” and its season finale tonight.

“It reminds me of that UPN show way back in the early 2000s I think it was, called ‘Platinum’ or something like that; I’ll have to look it up again,” he said, and then asked me if I remembered it, which, as I already noted, I don’t. 

So I looked it up as well, and here’s what I found…

In brief, in 2003, the then UPN network (which was shut down in 2006, with some of its programs moving to what is now The CW) debuted what it called television’s
first drama set in the world of hip-hop, featuring an ensemble cast of diverse
characters that the network said reflected the multi-cultural reality of the music industry.

What I was most surprised to learn was that the project came from Sofia Coppola (the same year that her second feature film “Lost in Translation” was released) and John
Ridley (of “12 Years a Slave” fame, as well as “American Crime” which just made its debut on ABC, and the controversial Esquire article that will continue to follow him wherever he goes, “The Manifesto of Ascendancy for the Modern American Nigger“). Coppola and Ridley developed the story, and Ridley penned the script.

Co-executive produced by Sofia’s father, Francis Ford Coppola (you know who he is, right?), the series aired on
Tuesday nights, from 9-10 PM. In a cross-promotional deal, MTV rebroadcast each week’s episode, 8 to 10 days following its original broadcast on UPN, as well as air promos
to publicize the UPN broadcast.

Described as a sprawling family saga, set in New York against the backdrop of the glamorous youth-driven, hip-hop lifestyle (flashy stars with money to burn and ruthless record executives who stop at nothing to make it big), “Platinum” revolved around a pair of brothers and
record industry moguls, Jackson (played by Jason George) and Grady Ellis (played by Sticky Fingaz), the archetype of rags-to-riches success after building their own hip-hop record label empire from the ground up – a successful company in the high-stakes, cutthroat music business. Though they were brothers, each approached the business in starkly contrasting styles, which is where I assume some of the dramatic conflict was sourced from.

Standing by the brothers’ side was their childhood friend and chief counsel, David Weitz (played by Steven Pasquale);
Jackson’s wife, Monica Ellis (Lalanya Masters); and the Ellis brothers’
younger sister Jade Ellis (Davetta Sherwood).

As I said, I’d never heard of the series until today, to be frank, and so I haven’t watched a single episode, and thus can’t offer any useful commentary on it. UPN just wasn’t a network that I watched at all. But I did find a few articles about the series, in reference to Fox’s “Empire.” For example, according to Variety, “Platinum’s” original title was actually “Empire,” which is incredible; but they couldn’t clear it for some unstated reason. And even more interesting is that Terrence Howard, the star of Fox’s “Empire,” auditioned for one of the lead roles in “Platinum.”

And according to a New York Times piece, the hilarious plotlines were often pulled from real-life stories within hip-hop. The record company’s biggest act was a white rapper, with a gun problem. And they often butt heads with the head of a rival label played by N’Bushe Wright (a name I haven’t heard in a very long time).

They were also faced with financial problems, and risked being exposed, often having to scare of threats of exposure via gangsta tactics.

“Platinum” was originally set up at HBO (which actually makes more sense than UPN), but the network passed on it, after several script rewrites, and so Ridley and Coppola shopped it around to other networks. As Ridley shared: “I think that was a challenge to bring it to the networks, that it was a black show and black people, but we were not all one type.”

Eventually UPN picked it up, despite the fact that “Platinum” was quite different from what the network typically aired in primetime. 

But, unfortunately, it lasted only 13 episodes, and was canceled due to low ratings. “It hurt so painfully when the show did not get picked up,” Ridley said.

I, of course, looked for it on home video platforms (DVD, Blu-ray, Netflix iTunes, Amazon etc), but, nada! I found nothing. And then after a little more digging, I learned that “Platinum” was never released on DVD, and has never been available on any streaming service ever!

Will it? I don’t know. But maybe with the immense success of Fox’s “Empire,” and many starting to recall this previous series that was almost called “Empire” but would eventually be known as “Platinum,” CBS Television Distribution, which owns the rights to the show, will get it out in some format soon! 

Luckily I found the below series of clips online, but not much else exists.

Any of you recall “Platinum”? 

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