He lit up the box office with hits like Diary of a Mad Black Woman; now Tyler Perry is bringin’ the Payne to television. On June 6, the writer/director/actor saw the first two episodes of the sitcom he created, Tyler Perry’s House of Payne, debut with an average of 5.5 million viewers — a record audience for a basic-cable original sitcom premiere. ”All I could do is say, ‘Thank you, Jesus!”’ said the 37-year-old about the runaway success of his show, which centers on a working-class African-American family and has already gotten a huge 100-episode order from TBS. The man with the Midas touch chatted with EW.com about his upcoming film projects (including November’s Why Did I Get Married?, starring Janet Jackson), his television goals, and why he’ll never enter the music business.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Why do you think audiences responded so well to House of Payne?
TYLER PERRY: It’s something different that hasn’t been done before. The show is going to go in a whole lotta directions. I break all the rules. I think that’s part of the appeal, but we’ll see what happens.
I watched the latest episodes, which had a subplot about crack addiction — pretty tough stuff for a show that’s billed as a comedy. Is it a priority for you that the subject matter stays edgy like that?
Yes. It’s so difficult for African-American people to have a drama on television. It’s [rarely] happened before, so where else do you put it? Until I can get into a position where I can have a complete drama, then I’ll keep mixing [the genres] all together.
You’re shooting the show at production facilities in your hometown of Atlanta, you’re on cable instead of a network… Why, with all the huge success that you’ve had, are you staying relatively grassroots?
Well, [otherwise] the artists have no say. I don’t want to give something to a public that’s buying my brand that is not me. If I have no say in it, then they’re not buying my brand — they’re buying something that’s been watered down or changed or tainted. It’s not that I’m a control freak. I can absolutely work with people as long as the idea I have is coming across.
Why did ultimately you go with TBS? Had you been approached by other networks?
After the tests ran last year, there were a few offers. I wanted somebody who would be as invested as I am and wouldn’t just want five episodes, or six episodes, or even 20. I knew if they made [a big] commitment, they would blow it out of the water, and that’s just what TBS did [by ordering 100 episodes].
About those 100 episodes — how are they broken up per season?
We’re shooting three episodes a week, and we’ll be done by the end of the year.
Wow. How big is your writing staff?
It’s about 15 of us in the room, and we map [the episodes] out and write them. But we started writing six months before we started shooting… I’m directing every episode, [and] working with the writers on every episode.
After the 100 are completed, is that the end of House of Payne, or do you think it will keep going?
There hasn’t been any talk about it as of yet… But 100 episodes is [the amount needed for] syndication. That’s five days a week! Most shows go four years to get there.
Has TBS talked to you about doing another comedy?
Everything’s very fresh. You’re talking [just a few] days ago that all of this has happened. But I do have another sitcom [I’m developing] called Meet the Browns…
Based on your play?
Yes, based on the character from the play. The Brown character is just as popular as Madea [the sassy matriarch Perry has played on stage and screen]. The film version [of Meet the Browns, starring Angela Bassett] comes out in February — we’re shooting it next month. I think the ratings [for a sitcom adaptation] would be unbelievable, because the characters are already built-in and have a huge following. We shot 10 episodes last December that are ready to go right behind House of Payne. I would be really happy for TBS to have it, because the promotion they put behind House of Payne just really blew my mind.
Would you ever consider doing a television drama?
I can tell you my short-term plan here in the next year or two: I’d love to have an entire night where I have three or four sitcoms on, and a drama, and a Tyler Perry talk show on just one day a week. That would be the thing I would love to have going. I think that whole four-hour block is very possible. That’s the short-term goal. The long-term goal is to own a network.
Tell us a little about the talk show you’re about to launch on TylerPerry.com.
I shot 12 episodes that will be running over the next month or two, on broadband streaming from my website. There’s a live studio audience… Again, it breaks all the rules. It’s a cross between Oprah and Leno, I think: One day I could be talking about serious subjects, and then the next day we could be having fun and listening to some great singers. It’s all over the place.
And what’s going on with your next movie, Why Did I Get Married?
It’s done — it’s in the can. We’re really excited about it. Janet Jackson looks phenomenal in it, and Jill Scott too. They’re unbelievable.
Like Daddy’s Little Girls, this movie has no Madea. Do you ever worry about your projects that don’t have her in them, since she’s so popular?
No… To keep the value of the character, she shouldn’t be too exposed. You know, Daddy’s Little Girls left the box office doing $30 million, and it was an $8 million movie. So it was a huge success.
You’ve done theater, TV, film… so the music biz must be next on your checklist, right? Got any plans to start a label?
I’ve written quite a few songs that have been on the radio and everything. But I don’t want to have a label. I don’t want to be in that business AT ALL. At all. The record business is such a nightmare to me. I’ve done three soundtracks for my films, and the whole industry is just in such turmoil that I couldn’t function over there. No, no, no.
So what’s the next project you’d say ”yes, yes, yes” to?
A vacation! I think I’m going to take the month of September off and travel the world for a bit.