Corbin Reid, Andrea Bordeaux, Amber Stevens West and Bresha Webb
Yvette Lee Bowser
When 30-something grads of HBCUs (historically Black colleges and universities) see themselves twirling through Harlem streets on Starz's Run the World , they'll have a sisterhood of Black women in media to thank for putting it on the air.
During the development process, the comedy — created and executive- produced by Leigh Davenport — reached one key member of that sisterhood, Yvette Lee Bowser. The showrunner behind Living Single and black-ish, Bowser has been dubbed the "Black TV show whisperer." She was excited about the material, which centers on four Black women taking over the world one Harlem night at a time. And she felt more than a spiritual kinship with its creator.
"Leigh and I, like our vice-president," she says, then corrects herself, " Madame Vice-President [Kamala Harris], are both members of Alpha Kappa Alpha," the sorority started by nine students at Howard University in 1908.
"I felt we needed to shine a light on diverse women who are figuring out adulthood," Bowser says. "I wanted to do another enviable female friendship show, a la Living Single."
For her part, Davenport was "looking for a partner, an executive producer to mentor me and help shepherd the show." Davenport is uniquely qualified to explore the clickbait-era legacy of a magazine editor–publisher like Khadijah James, the character Queen Latifah played in Boswer's Living Single.
Before she started writing TV scenes about idealized brunches at Red Rooster Harlem, Davenport ran HelloBeautiful.com, a Black lifestyle publication.
"I had come from journalism," she explains. Witnessing the impact of the digital revolution on Black media gave this Spelman College grad a perspective far removed from Carrie Bradshaw's West Village window.
Ultimately, a deal was struck with Lionsgate, and then Starz. The network's record of prioritizing Black shows like Power and P-Valley made that decision simple. "It was destined to land at Starz because those relationships were already in motion," says Bowser, who became the series showrunner and an executive producer.
While Covid-19 delayed that forward motion, Run the World was among the few shows that managed to complete production in New York last year. Rigorous safety protocols were followed, with cast and crew tested three times a week. Principal cast members Amber Stevens West, Andrea Bordeaux, Corbin Reid, Bresha Webb and Stephen Bishop stayed safe throughout filming of the eight-episode run.
Working during the pandemic went way beyond committing to the occasional safety memo, Bowser explains. "Knowing that we cared about their well-being was really important to the cast and crew. This was something that we talked about on a daily basis."
For those who hadn't left their homes since shelter-in-place orders were issued, the Run the World set was a time capsule. Dailies show an age where it was appropriate to lick envelopes in public and twerk on crowded dance floors.
"The show is a love letter to Black women," Davenport observes. "It is also a love letter to Harlem" — a sentiment evident in the trailer, which features a loving shot of the Harriet Tubman Memorial. "I became a woman in Harlem, and I love it more than anything," she adds. "It's such a magnificent neighborhood and more than just a place — it's a community."
Run the World airs Sundays on Starz; catch-up viewing is available on demand and on the Starz app.
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 5, 2021