Viola Davis is officially moving from Shondaland to the White House. Showtime has handed out a series order to anthology First Ladies, with the How to Get Away With M*rd!er star set to play Michelle Obama in the first season. The news arrives as Davis will officially say farewell to ABC’s Shonda Rhimes-produced drama How to Get Away With M*rd!r in the spring.
First Ladies was initially put in development last August, marking a very quick turnaround process for the premium cable network that usually takes a slow and methodical approach to prepping potential series. The premium cable network initially ordered three scripts for the anthology before handing out its series pickup. The anthology focuses on the personal and political lives of the country’s most enigmatic heroes, with season one focused on Eleanor Roosevelt, Betty Ford and Michelle Obama (Davis). (Additional casting details have not been announced.)
Author Aaron Cooley (Four Seats: A Thr*ller of the Supreme Court) created the series and will write and exec produce alongside Davis and her husband JuVee Productions partner Julius Tennon, Oscar-winner Cathy Schulman and her Welle Entertainment banner (Cr*sh), Jeff Gaspin (L.A.’s Finest) and Link Entertainment’s Brad Kaplan (Mr. Church). The series is a co-production between Showtime and Lionsgate Television. A premiere date and episode count have not yet been determined.
“Throughout our history, presidents’ spouses have wielded remarkable influence, not only on the nation’s leaders but on the country itself,” said Showtime Entertainment president Jana Winograde. “First Ladies fits perfectly within the Showtime wheelhouse of drama and politics, revealing how much personal relationships impact both domestic and global events. Having Viola Davis play Michelle Obama is a dream come true, and we couldn’t be luckier to have her extraordinary talent to help launch this series.”
During her six-season run on M*rder, Davis earned five Emmy nominations and took home one win as well as a Golden Globe and SAG Award. She is also an Oscar winner for feature Fences, which was based on the play of the same name that earned the actress a Tony win. She also appeared in six episodes of Showtime’s United States of Tara.
First Ladies arrives as Showtime finds itself in a year of change. In addition to saying its long farewell to signature drama Homeland, the premium cable network this week also delivered a bit of a surprise with its decision to cancel Ray Donovan after seven seasons. This year also will see Sham*l-ess — Showtime’s highest-rated scripted original — sign off after an 11-season run.
Also in the works on the series front there: a new take on Penny Dreadful, the long-gestating Halo, USA Network import Rust, starring Jeff Daniels, a Mr. Ripley drama series starring Fleabag’s “Hot Priest” and several others that have been in the works for far longer than First Ladies.
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