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The Game series finale: Mara Brock Akil, showrunner, talks opening doors for Empire and Scandal

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This week, the long-running BET-via-The CW series The Game comes to an end after nine dramatic seasons. When The Game first premiered back in the fall of 2006, shows with majority black casts were exceedingly rare. Since then, the TV landscape has been much more accommodating, with series like Empire, Power, and Survivor’s Remorse being just a few of the shows with minority-majority casts.

Mara Brock Akil, creator and showrunner for both The Game and Being Mary Jane, thinks this is no coincidence. Ahead of Wednesday’s series finale, EW asked Akil about her thoughts on how The Game helped change the face of TV.

The Game really showed how social media and Twitter and Facebook can influence change in business,” Akil tells EW, adding that when Girlfriends was canceled — the show from which The Game was spun off — fans “shut down the phone lines at UPN and overflowed the mailroom, but UPN did not have to report that, right?” asks Akil. “Social media creates transparency and gives fans somewhere to galvanize and create a voice.”

Akil provides ABC’s Scandal as an example of a cast using social media to solidify its place as a hit TV show in addition to its storytelling. Similarly, “The Game‘s fans showed the industry what that tool could do. And that 7.7 [rating] we got, it opened up the industry to say, ‘Wait a minute, there’s gold over there in those hills and that storytelling.’ That type of storytelling seems very specific and nuanced to a particular audience, but in our specificity, we showed that it’s universal. And I think that’s why you see chances being taken on, like, Ballers and Suvivor’s Remorse and Empire.”

Speaking of Empire, Akil gives “all respect” to the Emmy-nominated work Taraji P. Henson does on Empire with Cookie Lyon, but points to what Wendy Robinson of The Game did first with Tasha Mac. Robinson’s Tasha Mac “was unabashedly bold, funny, flawed, insane. She wanted what she wanted: She was about that money and that life. So Tasha sort of set the tone and set the larger stage for Cookie. I totally think that. So I’m very proud of what Wendy was able to do with that character while making her so lovable, when when she was so wrong in a lot of ways.

“So I do think that it showed that, yes, you can be very specific in a world like the music business, for Empire, or basketball, like in Survivor’s Remose. And these casts are all-black. Before, at the time when we were on, there were hardly any shows were almost all-black. I’m very proud of that from a cultural perspective.”

A version of this story appeared in Entertainment Weekly issue #1375, on newsstands now or available for immediate purchase here.

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