Until about six months ago, Anthony Anderson did not know he was famous. He was on a trip to Los Angeles, and his first night there, he and his castmate, Marion, went out.
"We were standing in line to get into this club, and all of the sudden, 'Oh my god! Oh my god!' So you know, we're just standing there looking around like 'Were's the camera? Cause we're about to see a famous person!' And the girl runs across the street and she's like 'Oh, my god! You're the...Anacostia!' And Marion and I looked at each other with our mouths open, like, you've got to be joking," he say.
Anderson was surprised, but admits he'd been fantasizing about that moment for a long, long time. He always wanted to be an actor, so a few years ago, he signed on with an agent, who send him on auditions with The Wire. That's the gritty HBO drama about life in Baltimore: drug dealers, cops, city corruption.
But when Anderson met with the show's casting director, "she said 'He's not ghetto enough.' And I was like 'what is ghetto?'" After all, Anderson points out, he grew up in an Anacostia housing project. "I guess she meant that I wasn't imposing. So, I put my own script together and never looked back."
Unlike The Wire, Anthony says, his new project was going to be fun.
"There would be those one line zingers that was gonna have people say, 'Oh no she didn't,' or, 'If that was me, I would have slapped her,'" he says.
In other words: a soap opera.
What Anderson came up with is sort of like "Desperate Housewives" meets "Sex and the City" with the slightest hint of "CSI": a bunch of couples living in the same neighborhood, all getting into each other's business.
There's no budget. Everyone works for free, apart from the editor, who gets a few hundred dollars per episode. It's an entirely African-American cast, and it takes place all around the District, though mostly in Anacostia.
"I knew by naming it Anacostia people had a preconceived notion of what it would be. That it would be hood and ghetto, full of drug dealers and prostitutes, like a mini Beirut," Anderson says.
He doesn't play up Anacostia's repuation, but he doesn't downplay it either. People are killed in drive-by shootings, and one of the neighbors runs a prostitution ring out of her house. Anderson says his goal, basically, is to be honest.
"The truth is there are problems in Anacostia. But guess what? There are problems in Montgomery County. There are problems in Alexandria," he says.
Anderson says it's not the setting but the show's characters that keep viewers coming back for the next episode. Roger Newcomb runs a New York-based Web site called "We Love Soaps," an online hub for those who, well, love soaps. Newcomb says Anacostia is offering something many television show's just aren't offering.
"Think of Broadcast television. Anacostia probably has more black characters than all of CBS. I think people can see themselves in these characters, and they don't see themselves in a lot of TV shows," he says.
Newcomb says Anacostia is now one of the top five most popular independent soaps out there.
When asked if he feels proud of how he's represented his hometown, Anderson says "absolutely."
"What we are doing for the city is positive. You have people from coast to coast, internationally, talking about a little place called Anacostia. And it's bringing people to drive through and see, 'What is this Anacostia?' And they come away like wow, that is so not what I expected," he says.
Raising Anacostia's profile is only a secondary goal, according to Anderson. His first priority is pure entertainment.
"When an episode comes out and everyone is on Twitter, it's so funny to sit there and pull up #Anacostiatheseries and see 'Oh my god, did you see her do!? I can't belive that she did this!"
Which is exactly the reaction he's been going for, right from the start.