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April 11, 2019

New Wives, New Tales

Things have changed since The First Wives Club was released. Tracy Oliver updates one of her favorite films for BET.

Jacqueline Cutler
  • Michelle Buteau, Ryan Michelle Bathe and Jill Scott

    Courtesy BET

Long before Tracy Oliver wrote a scene for her current project, she knew every word of the 1996 film The First Wives Club, which starred Diane Keaton, Bette Midler and Goldie Hawn.

"My mom, my sister and i used to watch it once a year," Oliver says. "i love that movie."

She also loves her 10-episode First Wives Club series, which will debut on BET this summer. Given the freedom to create new characters, Oliver — writer, executive producer and showrunner — fashioned three strong, smart women. On a warm afternoon, she perched on a director's chair on a quiet tree-lined street of Brooklyn brownstones, delighted to be shooting on location.

As much as she adores the original, Oliver knew the concept needed updating. "There are major differences between now and when it came out," she says. "Divorce is not such a big deal now."

The half-hour comedy features Hazel, a famous singer (Jill Scott, The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency); Ari, a brilliant former lawyer running her husband's political campaign (Ryan Michelle Bathe, This Is Us); and Bree, an orthopedic surgeon and mother of two whose husband is a teacher (Michelle Buteau, Enlisted).

"In the original movie, every guy was a breadwinner," Oliver says. "That is not true for me and my friends. We are killing it."

Oliver watches a scene being shot inside a brownstone. Bree and her husband, Gary (RonReaco Lee), meet with a marriage counselor, who asks why they're there. Gary responds with the "We're not connecting the way we used to" cliché. Bree, however, is having none of that. She says it's because he had sex with another woman.

Well, that got real quickly.

Even on a fifth take, those watching the monitors in the media village smile. Oliver knows what she's aiming for.

"I know it's a big goal, but I want it to be as popular a cultural touchstone as the movie," she says. "What does it mean to be a first wife in 2019?"


This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 2, 2019

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